As the current ambulance dispute grinds on with the Tory government deploying troops in an attempt to break the strike, so the hypocritical cant of the Labour Party makes itself increasingly clear. At every opportunity Labour attacks the government for using troops and the police when, according to Harriet Harman, a Labour spokeswoman, the dispute could be resolved by the conciliatory and amicable arbitration her party favours (World at One. Radio 4, 23 November).
This contrasts with the Labour Party’s own history, when in power, of using the forces of the state against the working class. The record of this should be required reading for all those workers who may be thinking of voting Labour at the next General Election.
Here is Labour’s record for using troops to break strikes. 1945: Dockers. 1946: Smithfield porters. Southampton dockers. 1947: Road transport workers (including Smithfield), dockers, Tower Bridge operators. 1948: Buckingham Palace boiler-room workers, dockers (State of emergency declared under Emergency Powers Act of 1920). 1949: Dockers, Smithfield road haulage drivers, gas maintenance workers. 1966: seamen. 1975: Glasgow refuse collectors. 1977: Air traffic control assistants, firemen. 1978: Naval dockyard workers.
During the so-called Winter of Discontent of 1978-9 Merlyn Rees, the then Labour Home Secretary, informed Parliament of the plans made to protect the interests of British capitalism:
The government were ready at any time to call on the assistance of the Services and to proclaim a state of emergency should that have been necessary. The contingency plans were kept constantly under review by ministers. 160 service instructors were trained and 15,000 servicemen were recalled from leave over the New Year period and kept on short notice. Detailed contingency plans had been prepared for requisitioning of tankers and restricting the use of fuel to priority purposes. To put the plans for requisitioning tankers into effect would have required a proclamation of a state of emergency. If necessary parliament would have been recalled. In the event it has not been necessary to put any of these plans into operation.
(Hansard, 15 January 1979. col. 1318)
When the Labour government did eventually use the troops during this major industrial dispute it was against . . . the ambulancemen:
Ambulance crews were particularly badly paid, with a minimum basic rate of 38.44p per week and the rejection of their claim for a two-thirds increase on 12 January led to their participation in the general local authority workers one-day stoppage on 22 January.
(Troops in Strikes, S. Peak, the Cobden Trust. 1984)
The Labour Party administration of capitalism under Callaghan replied by calling in the troops:
In London 50 army vehicles and 85 police were brought into use with the police providing the first line of cover backed up by the volunteer services, and troops only being summoned when these could not cope. (p. 144)
Workers should not just recall the anti-working class actions of past Labour governments but should also understand why. It is the working class who produce the wealth in society and it is the exploitation of their labour-power that has created the vast accumulation of wealth represented by the means of production and distribution. These are not owned by the workers but by the capitalist class and are used to make profits irrespective of workers’ unfulfilled needs and wants. This state of affairs is made possible because the capitalist class control the state through Parliament where its various political parties, including the Labour Party, now sit. The Labour Party, throughout its various terms in office, has always supported the interests of Capital against Labour because it is a capitalist party. It has never been, is not and never will be a socialist party.
Our material class interests are diametrically opposed to the employers and their political agents. Capitalism offers us nothing and we must organise democratically and take the necessary political action to establish socialism. There is no alternative.