From International Socialism, No.54, January 1973, pp.2-3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
It was bound to happen. There is no shortage, even in the working class, of publicity seekers, cranks and those with an eye on the golden handshake. There are quite a few embittered enemies of trade unionism as well. The Langston case is yet another proof that without a vigorous fight against the Industrial Relations Act, the attacks on union organisation will continue. This time, apparently, the NIRC is going to be asked to take action, in support of the decision of an industrial tribunal, against the shop stewards’ committee of Chrysler’s, Ryton, rather than against the AUEW. The remedy is the same. Nothing but industrial action each and every time the court attacks basic trade union rights can prevent crippling defeats – and defeats on ‘organisational’ questions will necessarily lead to defeats on pay, hours and conditions.
The trade union leaderships as a whole have abandoned the fight – and that is just as true of Jack Jones as of Frank Chapple. The AUEW continues, for the time being, on its solitary path of passive resistance. But passive resistance is not enough, indeed in and of itself it is a recipe for defeat. In the here and now the responsibility for leadership of the struggle falls on shop stewards, on local and district leaderships. That is no reason for ignoring the national organisations. On the contrary, the fight to force them to live up to their promises and really oppose the law is as vital as ever.
In the key case of the AUEW, it is clear that unless passive resistance is turned into active defiance the right wing will succeed in forcing a change of policy in the opposite direction. In the Goad dispute we had the spectacle of certain notorious right wingers calling for official national action – as an excuse for opposing local action and as a means of exposing the weakness of the line of the Scanlon left. The right wing have good reason to believe that aggressive action on their part will pay off. 1972 was not a successful year for Scanlon and the ‘broad left’ coalition. The national pay claim struggle, conducted according to the new ‘plant by plant’ strategy, could hardly be called a brilliant success by any standards. The eventual settlement was less than half of that won by the miners and only two-thirds of that achieved by the railwaymen. Nothing was gained on hours and only two days (from 1973) on holidays. Conway’s subsequent election victory was significant not only for the size of his majority but even more for the failure of the ‘broad left’ to conduct a campaign for Ernie Roberts remotely comparable to those it was able to mount in the sixties.
The ‘broad left’ – and its biggest organised component, the Communist Party – are also influenced by the drift to the right. Their lack of enthusiasm for new struggles, demonstrated for example by the failure of the Glasgow leadership to make any real effort to convince their membership of the necessity for action in the Goad case, naturally encourages the right. The immediate period ahead will see intensified pressure from that quarter. It will not be beaten by ‘passive resistance’ strategies and the shrugging off of national responsibilities, still less by concessions. Sooner or later, and most likely sooner, another real crunch will come on the Industrial Relations Act and the Scanlon wing of the executive council will be faced with an inescapable choice – to fight or to follow Jack Jones to the right. All the evidence suggests that they will follow the second course. The revolutionaries in the ‘broad left’ need to be preparing now for that eventuality.
Last updated on 12.1.2008