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Charles van Gelderen

TUC & the Labour Party –
the last warning?

(October 1968)

From International, Vol. 1 No. 6, October 1968, pp. 8 & 9.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Centenary meeting of the T.U.C., coming as it did in the fourth year of a Labour Government with a decisive majority should have been a red-letter occasion. The Labour Party is very largely the creation of the trade unions, brought into being to give political expression to the aspirations of the working class. Though the Labour pioneers were by no means marxists, they had an instinctive class consciousness. The Labour Party was seen by them as the party of the working class, arrayed against the politics of the capitalist class. The crown of their efforts was to be a Labour Government, their Government legislating for them and not for the bosses.

At Blackpool the hitherto close relationship between the trade unions and the Labour Party was severely strained. The weary old stalwarts could mount the rostrum and, beating their breasts, proclaim their loyalty to the Labour Government. It was clear to the most casual observer that this did not reflect the views of the rank and file. By a decisive majority the delegates voted against the Government’s incomes policy, recognising it for what it 1st the most vicious piece of anti-trade union legislation since the Tories introduced the Trade Union Act after the General Strike. And it was not only the votes on the floor which told the story. The determination of the engineers to call a nation wide strike despite the penal sanctions involved speaks the same language.

Significantly, the Dyers and Bleachers resolution approving the General Council’s wage vetting machinery was carried by a derisive 54,000 in a vote of nearly 9 million. Almost half of Britain’s trade unionists are not anxious to see the T.U.C. do the dirty work for the Government.

The militant resolution in favour of equal pay for men and women is heartening. But Congress has been carrying such resolutions since the 1880’s. Only if the threat of industrial action becomes effective will this resolution have any meaning. It is high time that the Labour movement acted resolutely to remove this last reservoir of cheap labour – women – from the labour market by forcing equal pay.

The increasing militancy of Labour’s industrial wing was also reflected in the elections to the General Council. Hugh Scanlon replaces the unmourned Lord Carron; Frank Cousins topped the poll with a massive vote of 8,468,000. Jack Jones of the Transport Workers, Alan Fisher of NUPE, Terry Parry of the Fire Brigades Union and George Doughty of the Draughtsmen, all help to bring a alight breeze of fresh air and some recognition of what the rank and file are thinking into the Council Chamber.

The Labour Party Conference

The annual conference of the Labour Party is the alter ego of Congress. Without a doubt the Government’s anti-working class economic policies will again be defeated at Blackpool in October. Even with Jennie Lee in the chair exercising all her undoubted charm this can be taken for granted. But passing resolutions is not enough. Like the union, the Labour Party must find a way to make its votes effective. Local Constituency Parties must be prepared to give moral and financial support to any industrial struggle which has this end in view. This will be one way to make the Government take more notice of the Conference resolutions. In the long run, the establishment of genuine links between the political and industrial wings on a local as well as a regional and national level will do more to restore the morale of the movement than even winning the next election.

Conference agenda reveals that it is economic problems which are the main pre-occupation of the movement at the moment. This accounts for the unusual paucity of resolutions on foreign policy. The workers fear mass unemployment, rising costs and savage cuts in real wages in the months ahead. This is reflected in the resolutions and is symptomatic of the almost complete loss of confidence in the Labour Government.

The continuing drop in membership, to say nothing of the 15 parliamentary by-elections, and the local government elections, tell the same story. Labour is doomed for years in the political wilderness if the leadership is allowed to follow its present disastrous course. It is up to the Conference to show, overwhelmingly, that there is an alternative road – the socialist road – to victory.

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Last updated: 9 December 2020