Ken Tarbuck   |   ETOL Main Page

Ken Tarbuck

Review: A New Annual?

(Winter 1969/70)

From Marxist Studies, Vol. 2 No. 1, Winter 1969–70.
Signed ‘JW’ that is, John Walters.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Minor spelling errors have been corrected without indication.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ken Coates, Tony Topham and Michael Barratt Brown (eds.),
Trade Union Register,
Merlin Press Ltd, price £2 hardback, £1 paperback

Merlin Press have this year published a stable-mate to Socialist Register, it is the Trade Union Register. The new Register is edited by Ken Coates, Tony Topham and Michael Barratt Brown. There is an impressive list of contributors, which seems to cover many shades of the left (and centre?). The book claims to be ‘a symposium designed for active trade unionists’. However, one can hardly imagine that an ‘active trade unionist’ would find time to read all the material collected in these 350 pages. If future issues are to live up to the stated aim they will need to be slimmed down somewhat. One has the feeling that the editors were a little unsure of their own aims when assembling the material and hence the large selection. Some of the essays are more suitable for publication in journals than in a book, which presumably is meant to be partly a reference volume. Also some of the essays are so heavily annotated that the references serve to impede one’s progress.

These are however minor criticisms compared with the real value of the book. All the contributions are of a fairly high standard, and many introduce new ideas on perennial topics. Janet Blackman’s contribution on the Campaign for Women’s Rights is a must for all those who are interested in this subject (and shame on you if you are not). Her point about there being two labour forces – men’s and women’s – is a very useful idea. She points out that far from women gaining equal rights what is really happening is that a small number of women are jumping into the male labour force without changing its character, and the vast majority of women still work in what is classified as women’s work. Men do not join this labour force under any circumstances.

Tony Topham writes a very solid item on productivity bargaining, tracing its development since the early 1960s, and demonstrates how this has now become the central part of the employers’ and government’s insidious attack on the unions. He also examines the reactions to this development by the trade-union movement, ranging from full cooperation to outright rejection. He also demonstrates that this is a method of keeping the proportions of the division of the national income either static or pushing it in favour of profits. Quite cogently argued is the need for an offensive strategy by the unions in face of this development.

John Hughes, Ken Coates and Richard Silburn all contribute essays on low pay, and John Hughes analyses the unemployment trends since 1964 bringing out some very disturbing and little-noticed factors.

One essay in particular makes this volume significant. This is Andrée Hoyles’ item on the occupation of factories in France, May 1968, which is based upon on-the-spot research, the basis for which was an extensive questionnaire which was used in selected factories. This seems to be the only attempt so far to find out what was actually happening in the factories and among the rank-and-file workers. Most writings that have appeared so far on the French events have concentrated upon the political-cum-student aspects, not surprising in view of the ease with which material can be gathered on these aspect and the fact that the students in particular were very articulate. However, in many ways Andrée Hoyles’ research presents a more fundamental picture of what was actually going on during those very hectic days, it is much closer to the grass-roots. No one who wants to obtain a full picture can afford to miss this vital piece of research.

It is not possible in a short review to mention any more of the contributions, but most of them are worth study. One final point, the book contains a very useful diary for 1968 and several statistical tables, both of which are useful for those who do not have the time to hunt around for such information.

Ken Tarbuck   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 14 October 2014