50 Years Ago: Opt for Socialism

May Day this year saw what the press claimed was ‘Britain’s largest and most sporadic political strike since 1926’. The Communist Party congratulated ‘the hundreds of thousands of workers’ who were downing tools and Socialist Worker (IS) was so confident that ‘this May Day’s political strike confirms a willingness to struggle’ that they wanted it to ‘mark the start of the fight for workers’ power’. But the Revolutionary Socialist Students’ Federation didn’t think it was as simple as that; first, we had to decide whether we were witnessing merely ‘a massive rise of Trade Union consciousness’ or was there instead ‘some glimmer of systematic revolutionary politics emerging from the militancy’.

Reading this sort of comment you could have been forgiven for not noticing, at a time when trade unions and the right to strike are being openly threatened by the Labour government, less than one per cent of the labour force was prepared to stop work for a single day. Even in those areas where a relatively high proportion of workers turned out (Sheffield, for example, with 10,000 or 4 per cent of the workforce on strike) the marches and demonstrations were poorly attended. In Sheffield 500 men and women gathered at the City Hall to listen to Labour MP Norman Atkinson calling for different policies from the government; in Manchester perhaps a similar number marched to the Labour Party’s headquarters; in Hull (with 3,000 dockers out) about 20 made the effort to demonstrate.

The facts, then, argue quite plainly that — such is the lack of even trade union consciousness among the vast majority of workers — they will accept some form of Industrial Relations Bill. In fact, Labour and Tories both recognise anti-strike legislation as a vote winner with the working class and vie with each other in portraying strikers as bloody-minded wreckers intent on sabotaging industrial output.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1969)