1970s >> 1971 >> no-800-april-1971

False friends and industrial relations

It is astonishing how many organisations seem to have found a new love for freedom in their attitude to the Tories’ trade union legislation. If it wasn’t so tragic it would be funny to hear the Communist Party trying to square the circle by supporting totalitarianism under Communist Parties and opposing the British government’s intention to limit the freedom of unions by state legislation.

The biggest prize for hypocrisy, though, must go to Wilson for his attempt not only to jump on the pro-union bandwagon, with his speech at the Albert Hall on 12 January but to take over and drive it along the road of his own political ambitions. When we think of the Labour Party’s In Place of Strife, the sheer hypocrisy, even in a world that has produced masters in the art, leaves us breathless.

The only straightforward interpretation of the facts is that of the Socialist: That in a society where a minority own the means of wealth production and distribution, and the majority have to sell their ability to work there must be economic antagonism. People accept that when they go into a shop to buy something there is an antagonism of interest between them and the shopkeeper; he trying to sell as high as he can, they to buy as cheaply as they can. But it seems that some people have difficulty in fully appreciating that the same economic antagonism exists between the buyers and sellers of labour power.

The balance of power in the deal is generally on the side of the employer, because the worker has very little in reserve like savings, and depends on selling his labour power to get the very essentials for living. Very early on in the history of capitalism, the worker found that by uniting he could even up the situation a bit, and so unions were born. Since those days every gain the worker has obtained has had to be fought for, and workers have died in the bitter struggles. Nothing has been given the worker, and it would be as well if self-appointed champions of freedom like Carr were to remember this.

In the course of all these struggles the workers have learned some bitter lessons. They have been “sold” by their leaders; this is why they still insist on their own shop floor rights. They have suffered from “blacklegs”, and free riders, so they fight for the closed shop.

Now, in order to weaken the position of the worker, force down the present standard of living and increase the profit margins, the government is trying to increase unemployment and prices, and to limit the ability of the worker to defend himself. That the Industrial Relations Bill is an attack on the organised worker is undeniable, and this fact is being ably demonstrated by the legal industrial specialists who are going to have a heyday over it. For some of the small print will produce some very long and lengthy legal arguments. Without a doubt some lawyers are about to make their fortunes at the expense of the working class.

The tragedy is that everybody is beginning to believe some, if not all, of the fallacious arguments on which the Bill is based. The arguments go something like this: In order to “give” the worker a job the employer must sell his goods at a profit, so the worker and the employer have an identity of interest, and as the government depends on a viable economy for social services, it is in everyone’s interest to keep down wages and prices, etc., etc.

We see the fallacy in this as soon as we realise that present society depends on the exploitation of the workers for continuance. But only a few trade unionists see this exploitation process for what it is, and they are not encouraged to do so by their own leaders, who help to perpetuate ignorance of the real solution to working class problems. It seems a confirmation of the old propaganda trick, that if you say a lie often enough, and with enough conviction, it will be accepted as the truth. This is also happening in respect of the claim that increases in wages are the cause of inflation. For the real cause, the increase of the Bank of England note circulation, and the consequent reduction in the value of money, has been the policy of all governments in post war years.

The Labour Party, and the TUC have gone along with supporting capitalism for years, and have no real alternative to offer the union members. In fact the TUC are like tired old men who just want a peaceful life till it is time for them to enter the House of Lords and wait for the undertaker. The Communist Party is still at its old game of trying to cause enough industrial confusion, so that it can come to power riding on the back of the workers. The tragedy is that the government are exploiting the detestation that workers have for the Communist Party, by picturing all the demonstrations against the Bill as part of a Kremlin plot. In fact there are probably some die-hard Tories who actually believe this nonsense.

The TUC have recognised that support for the Bill is a result of political ignorance, and are preparing to spend thousands of pounds trying to show the workers the inherent dangers. That this will be too late and too little is probably going to be proved. That the Unions will, and should, fight state legislation that limits their ability to defend their hard-won economic gains is obvious, and Socialists will be, and are, helping in that fight as individual members of trade unions. But we are also members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and stand for the overthrow of capitalism, and the introduction of a new form of society, namely, Socialism — so that we are opposed to capitalism with or without the Industrial Relations Bill.

Terry Lord