1970s >> 1977 >> no-876-august-1977

Grunwick or an exercise in opportunism

Humbug and hypocrisy will never be found absent when the “militant left” set about discovering new principles. The latest discovery, notwithstanding it is 150 years old, is that workers should have the right to form trade unions. They have been reminded by the events now taking place at the Grunwick factory in north London that the employers also have the right to resist trade unions. What’s more, the capitalist state will always back up the employers’ right with the coercive forces at its disposal, in this case the police. What both trade unions and the left militants have ignored is that this same state is under the control of the Labour Government—a Government which was supported and is still supported by the trade unions and the left-wing organizations, the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Tribune Group, and all the others taking part in the picketing.

Is it not hypocrisy that people like Jack Jones, Scargill and McGahey and other trade-union leaders who have entered into a social contract with this Government to keep wages down, should now be clamouring for Grunwick to increase them? What kind of humbug is this when Ministers and MPs of the same Government, including those Ministers and MPs sponsored by the trade union in the dispute, APEX, ostentatiously place themselves in the picket line (taking good care to warn the press well in advance of their arrival)? How can these people represent the interests of the working class and serve their capitalist masters at the same time?

The National Union of Mineworkers, who couldn’t afford to pay their members strike benefit, are bringing coach-loads of miners from Scotland, Wales and all over England at union expense to join the picket. What a waste of working-class funds and efforts! Len Murray, the General Secretary of the TUC, the right hand of the Labour Government, has warned all the political elements to stay out of an industrial dispute—his member unions having invited them in. We would advise Murray and the TUC to stay out of politics and do the job they are paid to do, and leave the running of capitalism to the capitalists.

The Grunwick affair is proving to be a very useful diversion for the trade-union leaders and their sterile policy of keeping a Labour government in office. Together with Labour, Communists, the Tribune group, and other self-appointed militants, they have demonstrated once more their total ignorance of how capitalism works. Everything they have touched has crumbled. Joining the picket line, they think, may redeem their image. This utterly discredited collection still continue to mouth the word “socialism” and pay lip-service to the class struggle.

The dispute itself is the old story of a capitalist employer who does not want his workers to join a trade union, and has sacked those who made the attempt. The majority of workers in the factory unfortunately will not support their fellow workers and have continued to work. The trade-union movement has dealt with many similar situations over the years, and has evolved procedures for dealing with them. By quietly and patiently negotiating with the workers concerned they have been able to show that membership of a trade union was in their interest. It is a measure of the incompetence of APEX, the trade union involved, that they are unable to persuade workers where their interests lie. Instead they have tried to impose trade unionism from above, and are enlisting the aid of the courts in the process. They may be sure that the foxy Labour Government will keep them fully occupied with High Courts, Courts of Enquiry, Courts of Appeal and other legal procedures which are meat and drink to the employers, just as they are expensive for the workers. Standing behind the employers is the reactionary National Association for Freedom subsidized by other anti-union employers.

It is absurd for the union to maintain a picket for over eleven months when quite clearly it is ineffective and must cause considerable hardship to all the workers concerned. They are being used as a pawn in the present attempt by APEX to enlarge its membership and possibly enforce a closed shop—which is not in the interests of the working class.

The trade union movement seem determined to present this affair as a major issue in the industrial struggle. It is not a major issue—the major issue in the class struggle is Socialism. We do not want sweat-masters or enlightened employers. We do not want capitalism on the best terms unions can obtain: we want to end it. Nowhere in the dispute has any time been devoted to the issue of Socialism versus capitalism, which is the only thing which matters. Trade unions at the moment have no time for Socialism or the Socialist Party of Great Britain, but the class conflict between employer and employee can only be resolved by abolishing the conditions which give rise to that conflict. If workers in or out of trade unions refuse to give their support to the SPGB they must not be surprised that capitalism hurts them.

We stand for the abolition of the wages system. That objective can be obtained now providing workers give their minds to it. If the workers can show an atom of the interest in Socialism they have shown in the Grunwick dispute we would be well on the way to building up a strong Socialist movement.

Jim D’Arcy