1960s >> 1966 >> no-743-july-1966

Editorial: The Seamen’s Struggle

The Socialist Party of Great Britain supports the strike of the members of the National Union of Seamen for higher wages and improved working conditions. As workers ourselves we know that under capitalism we get nothing save through organisation and struggle. The social conditions of capitalism, where a tiny minority own the means of life, inevitably give rise to a struggle over the division of wealth. The class struggle will last as long as capitalism because the interests of workers and owners are irreconcilable. The seamen’s strike is an expression of this class struggle though it is fair to say that very few seamen fully understand this. They do not recognise that there is an irreconcilable conflict between workers and owners everywhere. They do not recognise that workers have no country and that patriotism is a delusion and a snare. They do not recognise that the wages system shows up the dependence of the workers on the owners for a living.

The strike has a wider significance than the wages and working conditions of seamen. The Labour Government, as caretakers for capitalism, have decided at last to stand up to organised workers in Britain. Wilson has said so on TV:

What is at issue here is our national prices and incomes policy. To accept this demand would breach the dykes of our prices and incomes policy . . . There will be those who say that to insist on the basic principles of prices and incomes policy will be costly for the nation. What is at issue is this. Our determination to insist on these principles when the cost is so great will be taken by everyone, here and abroad, as a proof of our determination to make that policy effective.

The Government hope to make an example of the seamen and so deter others from opposing their policy. This means that if the seamen lose then the wages and working conditions of the rest of us will be adversely affected over the next few years. This has happened before. In May, 1958, a Tory Government stood up to the London busmen and won and for the next year or so their wages policy was “effective”.

Even if the seamen win and the dykes of Labour’s wages policy are breached the Socialist Party points out that this is not enough. All the cards are stacked against workers under capitalism. Being propertyless they depend on the owners for a living. On top of this there is a further disadvantage. The Government represents the interests of the owning class. Any Government in Britain has at its disposal a vast arsenal of political weapons to oppose any economic action by workers, not least the strike-breaking Emergency Powers Act invoked by the Government (and agreed to unanimously by Parliament, left-wingers and all) after a week of the strike.

But it was the working class, not excluding the N.U.S. which is affiliated to the Labour Party, who handed over these weapons to the owners only three months ago in voting by the millions for the parties of capitalism, Labour, Tory and Liberal. Giving political power to the owners one moment and the next trying to beat them by economic action is inconsistent to say the least. Workers must come to realise the importance of political power and that they must control it before they can free themselves from wage-slavery. When workers do realise this then they will see the need for an independent workers’ party opposed to all other parties to carry the class struggle from the economic to the political field; a party whose sole aim is to win political power to end capitalism and set up socialism. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is such a party in this country.