1970s >> 1979 >> no-894-february-1979

Political Notebook: Gormley the Scab

It must be a hard life being a trade union leader. The endless meetings with the Government and the bosses in which they sell out their members’ interests, all those speeches to conference telling the workers to pull their belts in for the sake of the Right For Callaghan To Work campaign. And then there’s the insufferable inconvenience of delegations abroad, especially unmanageable when you consider the five-star hotels, the massive banquets and the tours around the workplaces to observe the sterile lives of those who put their trust in leaders. It is a well known fact that such visits are especially favoured when they are to East European state capitalist countries.

Joe Gormley, leader of the National Union of Miners, returned not long ago from an outing to Poland where he met up with his counterpart, the leader of the State-controlled Polish miners’ union. Between cocktail parties the two workers’ representatives discussed the case of a certain Polish miner who was the foreman in a mine and was disturbed by the appalling conditions under which his men were forced to work which were in breach of the union regulations. Needless to say, his union failed to support his complaint so he attempted to set up an unofficial union to fight for better conditions of work in the mines. But real unions aren’t allowed in the People’s Democracy of Poland and the man was thrown into a psychiatric hospital. Recalling the heroic struggles of British workers to form unions like the NUM, one might have expected Gormley to have had a few tough words to say to his Polish counterpart.

But, according to a report in the Observer, Gormley accepted that this man’s incarceration was quite legitimate on the grounds that he was an adulterer and a jew — crimes against the people, indeed! Internationalist solidarity and freedom for wage labour to struggle against capital clearly mean less to Joe Gormley than the petty comforts of a free holiday in Poland. By remaining silent while fellow miners arc locked up for demanding the right to organise in a free trade union Gormley has shown himself to be an enemy of the working class. Trade unionists have a name for the likes of Gormley: he is a scab.

Conspicuous Silence
When is a ‘ruthless imperialist invasion’ (Morning Star on the Americans in Vietnam) a case of freedom fighters (equipped with Russian tanks) extending the frontiers of socialism? When it’s Russian-aided Vietnam attacking China-backed Cambodia. Any comments from the Morning Star on this ruthless capitalist invasion in which many innocent people have been slaughtered for the sake of territorial expansion? How about a demonstration outside the Vietnamese embassy? Or even a ’Hands Off Phnom Penh’ campaign? Communist Party hypocrisy?

Front Bench Socialists
Here’s a story which might turn a few faces red in the corridors of power. Not long after his resignation. Sir Harold Wilson was due to appear on a certain BBC radio programme for young people in which he was to answer questions from members of the public who made up the audience. Like most BBC operations, the audience was not entirely unselected and members of the ’youth sections’ of each of the major parties were invited to attend. At least, that’s what the BBC think happened. In fact, the producer of the programme mistakenly phoned the Head Office of the Socialist Party instead of the Labour Party. He asked for a bunch of ‘keen young socialists’ to go along to Broadcasting House for the recording of the programme. He even said that Wilson was particularly anxious that the socialists should sit in the front row where he could see them. Never ones to disappoint the old and needy, a group of young members of the SPGB turned up at Broadcasting House. Wilson’s smile temporarily dropped when one SPGBer asked him how he had the nerve to call himself a socialist. Oddly enough, no one else from the front row was asked to speak after that.

Nothing To Fear
Another man who wouldn’t have much faith in Wilson’s ‘socialism’ is Peter Tebbutt. Writing in the January issue of Socialist Organiser he says:

   Over and over again Labour in office shows a distinct leaning towards capitalist organisation. Ministerial advisers and appointees are drawn from the ranks of the business and professional classes. Little wonder that the aspirations of the working classes (sic) never reach fulfilment. Capitalism certainly has nothing to fear from a Labour Government . . .

Mr. Tebbutt is prospective parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party for Falmouth and Camborne. Come the next General Election he will be asking workers to elect a Labour Government which will never fulfil their aspirations. The SPGB agrees with Mr. Tebbutt that Labour cannot solve the problems of the vast majority. But we. oddly enough, advise workers not to vote Labour. Perhaps it’s because we put political honesty before personal ambition.

All Honourable Men?
With the police hoping to persuade Lord Kagan back to England to help with their enquiries into some very large currency fiddles, yet another of the businessmen ennobled in Harold Wilson’s resignation honours list is receiving some unwanted publicity.

The last of Wilson’s noblemen to suffer this was Eric Miller, a property tycoon who shot himself as the Fraud Squad were closing in on him.

The Labour ex-Prcmier seems to have had a mutual help arrangement with the likes of Kagan and Miller. Wilson’s affection for his Gannex mac probably did a lot for Kagan’s raincoat business and the happy friendship was scaled by his making Kagan a Life Peer.

It was only a few spoilsports like backwoods aristocrats and nasty-minded newshounds who wondered whether this sort of thing was a misuse of the Honours List. Wilson might have reminded them that it was all in tradition: the English aristocracy was largely born from the more successful pirates and bandits of mediaeval England and grew up on such inhumanities as the slave trade and the Industrial Revolution.

Honours are awarded for long service to British capitalism, which is why trade union leaders often find themselves, in the twilight of their days, sitting in the House of Lords. Capitalism is itself a massive crime—the depriving of the majority of people of the wealth they produce—a fact which, to say the least, tends to blur the distinction between what capitalism says is lawful and that which it outlaws.

By capitalism’s standards, the likes of Kagan and Miller were ripe to receive some entitlement to dress up in outdated and inconvenient clothes, as a formal recognition of what they represent. Their support for the Labour Party—and the reward they received for it—may give food for thought to that dwindling band of Labour supporters who still think their party has something to do with a society where people will stand in equality.

Steve Coleman