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Dudley Edwards

Trades Councils: A Parliament of Labour

(May 1979)

From Militant, No. 457, 25 May 1979, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The second part of an article by Dudley Edwards
Written during the office of 1970–74 Tory government

The idea of broadening Trades Councils to include representatives from shop stewards’ committees and councils is gathering growing support among the rank and file of the trade unions and from the leadership of some unions.

Such changes would immensely increase the co-ordinating power of Trades Councils. They would then become the real parliaments of Labour in each locality, drawing into their meetings representatives from the factories, offices, transport depots and hosts of other establishments.

This would infuse new life and strength into the entire labour movement.

The areas where the trades councils have been playing a major part in the local and national strikes and struggles are, significantly, precisely those in which Labour has the most solid basis of electoral support – Liverpool, Manchester, Tyneside. This fact destroys forever the false argument of those right wingers who are forever suggesting that militant industrial action on the wage front or political strikes against anti-union legislation such as the Industrial Relations Act harm the Labour Party in elections.

It is the determination to use both political and industrial means against the Tories and big business who are attempting to solve the capitalist crisis at the expense of the working class, which welds the whole class together as a united force. It is this struggle which increases support for the return of a Labour government – if Labour fights on a genuine class policy.

No exact formulas can be laid down, but history suggests that such initiatives to expand the scope of Trades Councils could prepare the way for future genuine ‘councils of action’ uniting and co-ordinating the struggles of all the working people in a local area.

Trades Councils can become the lynch pins of that working class unity which is the pre-condition for the overthrow of capitalism, laying the corner-stone of the socialist society.

It was the National Conference of Trades Councils which first took up a position of uncomplicated opposition to the big businessmen’s club, the Common Market. At that National Conference (held at the time of writing, under the Health government) the resolutions included a straightforward socialist motion on the economy and opposition to any further consultations with the Tory government:

“This Conference believes that no good will come to the working people of Britain from the pursuance of tripartite consultations between the government, the TUC and the CBI conference and therefore calls on the TUC to waste no further effort in such consultations, but instead redouble its efforts to establish a truly socialist state and to work for the return of a Labour government firmly pledged to the introduction of legislation designed to achieve this end.”

It is true that such forthright resolutions are not binding on the trade union movement, but the rank and file sentiment expressed here is an indication of the direction which the whole trade union movement is likely to take in the stormy years ahead.

There are few, if any, other countries where such a great mass movement exists, entirely controlled by ordinary men and women from their places of work.

Trades Councils can be built up into organisations capable of not only changing society but of acting as a channel for the full and democratic participation of the whole working class in the building and control of the new democratic socialist society of the future.

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Last updated: 29 October 2017