“Huffing and Puffing”

Futile Talk by a Trade Union leader
The president of the Mineworkers’ Union, Joe Gormley, is making stroppy noises about the Government. He says: “The time for huffing and puffing is over” . . . “The Unions must put their feet where their mouth is” . . . “If you can’t abide the Government’s policies, then you must change the Government” — and that, he says, “Must mean the Trade Union Congress calling a General Strike”.


All this in the News of the World (18 February), which is appalled and calls on responsible trade-union leaders to “drag Mr. Gormley back from the brink”. He doesn’t think the Tories will win the next election, although he carefully avoids mentioning which party might win in the event of a Tory defeat.


The election (to be forced by a General Strike) will be about “rising prices”, “land speculation” and “property racketeers”. Obviously, Mr. Gormley had an election programme along these lines in mind. One wonders why the vociferous Gormley, who prides himself on his outspokenness and says it sometimes makes him unpopular, is so coy about this.


It is patently obvious that the only possible outcome of a Tory election defeat is a Labour Party victory and a Labour government. If Gormley is under the mistaken impression that this will in any way improve the lot of the workers, or increase the freedom of the trade unions, we must remind him that it was the postwar Labour government which prosecuted gas workers (who are on strike today under Tory rule without being prosecuted). The gasworkers were sentenced to a month’s imprisonment, later changed to a fine of £50 each.


Another of the ineffable Joe’s pipe-dreams is the notion that a Tory election defeat (and therefore Labour victory) can satisfactorily deal with rising prices, land speculation, and property racketeers. It was a Labour government which in addition to printing too many bank-notes, like the Tories, deliberately devalued the pound, or inflated the currency, increasing prices.


That a responsible official of a very large Union can so try to deflect attention from the Union’s real business (getting an increase in wages) shows how much they still have to learn of the economics of capitalism. Wages are also a price, and every trade-unionist wants this price to rise. The stupid folly of the TUC in allowing the Government to kid them that higher prices are the result of wage increases is doing much harm to the trade union movement.


As an organized political party seeking political power through the ballot, the Socialist Party of Great Britain have this to say to Gormley. Your talk about General Strikes to bring down governments is a counsel of folly and despair. If the organized trade-unionists made up a majority of the electorate (which they do not) then they could do this constitutionally anyway, but if they did it as an organized group they would be acting as a political party, not a trade union. But trade unions are not organized on political principles, but on trade or job qualifications.


Having defeated the Tories and returned a Labour (or TUC) government, they would then be faced with the job of all governments — running the country; and we have forty years of experience and six previous Labour governments to tell us exactly what they would do. Even if Joe Gormley himself were appointed Prime Minister, he would do what every PM does: protect capitalism, because he would not have been elected and have had no mandate to do anything else. He would have been elected to patch up capitalism (rising prices, etc., etc.).


As Mr. Wilson told the TUC once: “The job of a Government is to govern.” How much more money and time is the Mineworkers’ Union going to pour into the futile and useless Labour Party? For more than forty years they backed nationalization of the coal mines. This was eventually implemented, and notices were stuck up outside coal-pits saying: “These mines now belong to the People.” And organizations like “Age-Concern” now say that more elderly people are dying of cold than ever, because they cannot obtain enough of “their own” coal. Miners are still striking for increases in wages, as they did when the pits were privately owned.


Finally, about the General Strike. A General Strike, like all strikes, is a merely negative action. It is workers refusing to work, sitting down, or going home. It may remove or bring down a government. If the general-strikers (as in Italy now) are not Socialists, they will re-elect a non-Socialist — that is, a capitalist — government and the whole daft business starts all over again. For this reason, we have always consistently opposed the idea that capitalism can be damaged by political strikes. No mere strike action can help the establishment of Socialism, which is a positive measure where everybody does something to help. Of course, trade unions will have a hand in this.


The General Council of the TUC has given the answer to Gormley: “A total and continuous stoppage was ruled out because it would not be possible.” (Guardian, 28 Feb. 1973). Perhaps Joe Gormley will now stop “huffing and puffing” about political general strikes.