THE SOCIALIST LABOUR LEAGUE AND THE ETU
(General Secretary of the Socialist Labour League)
News Letter Leaflet, 1961
This leaflet was published in opposition to the right-wing trade union leaders of the TUC who had caused a serious split in the trade union movement. Leaders of the Electrical Trades Union, members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, had been caught out rigging ballot results in order to ensure their own return to leading positions.
This is, of course, typical behaviour of those who adhere to the Stalinist school of trade unionism, but rather than deal directly with those concerned, the TUC leaders took this opportunity the crush rank and file militancy be expelling the ETU from the TUC.
THE SOCIALIST LABOUR LEAGUE AND THE ETU
Every trade unionist knows that the Tory offensive against wages and working conditions is under way. The harsh treatment which Selwyn Lloyd has meted out to the civil servants and teachers is only the beginning. The Chancellor is preparing for a real onslaught in the months ahead. Big business confidently expects that this will commence with the nationalised industries when the railwaymen’s pay claims come to a head towards the end of this year.
There is no room for complacency. The entry of the Tories into the Common Market is the signal for the super monopolies to plan to subsidize one another in a fight against those workers who refuse to pay for the high cost of capitalist crisis.
The Trade Union Congress is fond of calling itself the general staff of the trade union movement, yet on the eve of this Tory attack it has taken a decision which can only disrupt and eventually split the trade unions from top to bottom.
To the General Council, unity in action against the Tories is meaningless. They are more concerned with dealing with militants who want to fight the Tories than with the big business robbers whose company balance sheets reveal steadily rising profits. The expulsion of the Electrical Trades Union from the TUC is a severe blow at the working class.
The implications of such a drastic step are immense. As the Financial Times of August 22 implied, the attack on the ETU is connected with the preparations for entry into the Common Market. In the engineering industry there is scarcely an agreement covering working conditions to which the ETU is not a signatory. During the organisation of new industries the militants of the ETU have played a powerful role in working for 100 per cent trade unionism. In a number of other industries they are key men. If they choose to strike, whole industries can be brought to a standstill. It is their militancy in the motor car industry which has greatly assisted in pioneering the way for an improvement in wages and working conditions.
Now, in the face of the Tory offensive, the aged leaders of the big trade unions, together with their knighted brethren, have decided to split this decisive section of workers from the rest of the trade union movement. They openly invite the poaching of ETU members. Before the appeal of the leaders of the ETU is heard in the courts, they pronounce a verdict .
The reason for these tactics is not difficult to see. Since the High court judge imposed a general secretary on the ETU, a small handful of plotters, who work with the diehards of the TUC, are more and more being revealed as allies of the right wing and its pro-Tory policies. Cannon, Chapple and Byrne are right-wing puppets whose drive for power is being organised without any consideration of the serious consequences which they will have for the working class. What does it matter to them if the TUC choose to split the working class in the face of the Tory offensive?
The right-wing does not disguise the fact that the TUC decision is part of a pressure campaign to install the “little generals” in power during the September elections. To those self-styled champions of union democracy it does not matter a jot if in the course of doing this the gate is opened for the Tories to deal irreparable blows against the trade union movement.
IF THEY LOSE
There could be another and perhaps more important reason for these disruptive measures. If the right-wing lose the September elections in the ETU, then they are probably prepared for a split. Every electrician must work might and main to see that they lose these elections. Between now and the election night, every rank-and-file electrician must be mobilized to isolate the right-wing and elect those leaders who are so hated and vilified by the capitalist press, including those who are members of the CP. [The Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain - Ed]
The attack on the ETU must be seen as part of the general offensive against the trade unions. Self-styled Lefts as well as Right wingers evade the issue by lapsing into denunciation of Communist Party policy. It is quite true that CP policy in the past based itself upon the achievement of positions in the trade unions by collaboration with the right-wing bureaucracy. This led to a situation in which Communist Party trade union functionaries were in many cases indistinguishable from the right wing during important disputes. The leadership of the Communist Party thought it could win positions through collaboration and then use these positions to implement policy. But the application of the policy of “peaceful co-existence” to trade union work leads in practice to collaboration with right-wing reformists.
Whether they acknowledge it or not, this state of affairs had come to an end, for the time being at least, in the ETU. The attack upon leading Communist Party members in that union is an all-out attempt to destroy them as trade union members by driving them out of the trade union movement. The real mistake they have made is that they relied not upon the militancy of the men they represented but upon the overall policy of the Party, a policy which was directed towards influencing the Right rather than a utilization of the class struggle to fight and defeat the Right. This is the Marxist road.
Last year the Communist Party could write glowingly of the advance made by the TUC but this year it is forced to admit almost complete failure. Not only have the right wing of the TUC not carried out policies decided at the last Congress, they are now busily engaged in a fight against members of the Communist Party. To run away from the struggle in the ETU today means a new Black Circular in other unions tomorrow.
If the Communist Party members of the ETU are to survive this fight, then they must develop a militant struggle against the employers. They must raise their political understanding in an effort to direct this struggle against the Tory government as a whole.
One can only defeat the Tories and the Right Wing today by correct policies towards the class struggle. The Socialist Labour League believes it is wrong to direct a negative attack against members of the Communist Party in the ETU. It is possible to utilize the present real basis for agreement on certain important questions in order to discuss more amicably the differences that exist. Despite those differences we are opposed to making trade unionists such as Frank Haxell and Frank Foulkes scapegoats for wrong policies.
In the past, Stalinist propaganda has consistently misrepresented and slandered the Trotskyists on the grounds that we were supposed to be agents of the ruling class. Such lies, of course, have been exploded in recent years, especially since the Twentieth Congress. [Of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956 – Ed]. The history of the Trotskyist movement will reveal that we have in all cases opposed witch-hunting against members of the Communist Party; that we fought for the affiliation of the Communist Party to the Labour Party and for the establishment of united action between the various sections of the Labour movement. Such a struggle for unity in no way contradicts the need for consistent clarification of political differences and for the discussion of these differences. By working together on issues where it is possible to have a common front against the main enemy, sooner or later there is an opportunity to examine political ideas. We think that the policy of the Communist Party leadership in the trade union movement which has been based upon peaceful co-existence with the Right wing has been wrong and has led to serious mistakes. Now there is an opportunity to discuss and examine this policy in the light of fresh experiences.
We are confident that this will encourage serious trade unionists to examine critically the past history of Stalinism in Britain and break decisively from it. If, however, there are people in the Communist Party who believe that a turn to the left in the ETU can be considered as a manoeuvre, so that later they may return to the old order of things, then we can only say that they are piling mistake upon mistake and playing into the hands of the enemy.
GIVE A LEAD
United activity around issues where there is agreement between members of the Socialist Labour League and the Communist Party is absolutely essential if we are to test out the correctness or otherwise of our policies in practice. It must not under any circumstances be considered as a manoeuvre for scoring debating points.
The problem of the hour is to build up maximum unity to keep the Right Wing out of the leadership of the ETU and to develop a union with policies against the employing class and for the attainment of socialism.
The Right Wing are relying upon the strength of their machine to destroy the militants of the ETU, but this machine is built of sand. Woodcock and Co. may think they are very smart in expelling the ETU from the TUC, but what they may well be doing is setting in motion the process of split which can go far beyond the ETU.
Whereas it appeared last year that a split in the Labour Party would precede one in the TUC, this year it seems that the forces for split are moving more rapidly in the unions. This is, of course, what the Tories want. A trade union movement that is split helps to divide the working class and enables the employers to weaken trade unionism everywhere.
To the Right Wing trade union bureaucrats, too, a divided working class is much easier to handle than a united militant one. In this respect there is agreement between the Right Wing and the Tories.
Every delegate at the Trades Union Congress must vote against the expulsion of the Electrical Trades Union. There can be no evading this question. At the same time the struggle must be carried into the rank and file of the other trade unions. Members of the ETU and these unions should get together on the jobs and form strong liaison committees to prevent poaching and any attempts by the Right Wing to break up the ETU. Such liaison will undoubtedly lead to a strengthening of the trade union movement in the face of the Tory offensive and at the same time it will stop the Right Wing from disrupting the ranks.
Rank-and-file unity is the best way to answer the trade union disrupters of the Right. Such unity at the base can completely defeat those who want to split the movement and weaken it at the most critical time. The future of the ETU depends upon the rank-and-file action.
ETU members can now give an industrial and political lead to all trade unionists who are menaced by the Tory offensive. They must combine rank-and-file action with the struggle for their policy conference decisions; for the return of a Labour government pledged to the nationalisation of all the basic industries, freedom for the colonial people and an end to all bans and proscriptions.
A struggle along these lines should be accompanied by a determined struggle to raise the political level of the movement and re-arm it for the struggles ahead. If this is done we can transform a dangerous situation into one in which it is possible to win important victories.