1960s >> 1969 >> no-776-april-1969

The Review Column: War Against the Unions

War Against the Unions

The war between the Labour government and the unions is now being fought on three fronts.

This autumn the Prices and Incomes Act comes up for review in Parliament and there will be a battle over whether it should be left as it is, or altered, or scrapped altogether. Going on past experience, there will be the usual dismal clutch of Labour MPs threatening to do something desperate like abstain from the Commons vote, and the unions supplicating for modifications and concessions.

Both groups will probably come to terms with what they call their conscience and the government will get the legislation it wants.

Then there is the battle over future legislation, sketched out in the White Paper In Place of Strife. This will try to restrict the unions and to regulate the class struggle into a nice, cosy, disciplined affair.

Whatever the government manages to push through on this, if the experience of other countries with similar laws is anything to go by, it will have little effect in the long run.

Finally there is the battle — in places like Ford’s, the docks, the schools—over wage rises and improvements in working conditions which go against government policy.

Of course the Labour government expected to have to fight the workers on these fronts. On the other hand the unions, and those workers who go on strike outside unions’ agreements, should also have been able to forecast what has happened.

The Labour Party were quite clear, for years before they came to power, about their intention of trying to tame the workers. This is normal, in a party whose policy is to try to run capitalism.

The workers should have realised this, when they were voting Labour in their millions. And they should remember it, when they next have a chance to choose which party shall run British capitalism. Then they should ask themselves what is the real alternative to strife.


The Concorde, taking off amid its own thunder into clouds of doubt and confusion is, we are told; a triumph of modem technology.

We should, apparently, all be grateful to the designers and scientists who have made it possible for a handful of business men and wealthy travellers to get across the Atlantic a few hours faster than before — even if this is at the cost of a multitude of damages to our homes and our nerves.

But of course Concorde was not built to benefit human beings — if it were it would be unique in capitalism. The development of military aircraft during the war opened up supersonic travel and this was sure to be applied to civilian airliners.

The British and French aircraft industries have rushed into this venture, unsure of its ultimate effects, its feasibility, even its economics, in the hope of recapturing some of the advantages lost to the Americans in the market for the big jets.

As it happened the Russians beat everyone to the draw and their supersonic airliner was the first to fly. It may yet make an effective bid for the world market in these monstrous aircraft

It may turn out that it was all a colossal waste of time. The sonic boom may do so much damage to property on the ground, and to the working efficiency of people, that its economic disadvantages outweigh the aircraft’s profitability.

If this happens, some people may think supersonic planes were defeated by a concern for human well-being. But as usual this has hardly come into the matter.

The truth is that the whole business— the Concorde programme, the withdrawal of the Americans, the bid from Russia, the possible collapse of Concorde — has been motivated by capitalism’s quest for profit. With that as a priority, humane factors come a long way behind.

Russia versus China

The powers of capitalism can never be frank about the reasons for their international conflicts. That is why the official propaganda machines always represent wars as clashes of ideology — clashes between cruelty and mercy, belligerence and amity, or simply between right and wrong.

This applies as much to those states which claim to be socialist as to the rest. The dispute between Russia and China, for example, is represented by both sides as an ideological clash; the Russians say the Chinese are warmongers, the Chinese accuse Russia of betraying a socialist revolution.

During the fighting last month at Damansky Island, in the Ussuri River, both Russia and China accused the other of “armed provocation”. The Russian protest complained of “adventuristic policy . . . reckless provocative actions . . .” The Chinese loudspeakers blared out abuse about the “renegade, revisionist clique” in Moscow.

In fact the fighting started for anything but ideological reasons. The Russian territory around Vladivostok was annexed under the Tsars in the 19th century. The Bolsheviks swore to return the land but that was one of those vows which were quietly forgotten in the rise of capitalism in Russia.

Since then Russia has poured an immense amount of capital into developing the area’s industries and communications. Vladivostok is an important naval base, and Russia’s only commercial outlet to the Pacific. And just like any other capitalist class, the rulers of Russia are anxious to protect their investments.

China, however, as a newly rising capitalist power is pressing to re-negotiate the treaties which lay down her frontiers (the reason, also, for the clashes with India in 1962), one of which is marked by the Ussuri. All of this combined to make a delicate and dangerous situation, which is not in any way lessened by the supposed ideological comradeship between the two states.

It is, in fact, a classical dispute between two capitalist powers. Very often these disputes start over something trivial, like a spit of sand in the Ussuri River. But the background is anything but trivial.