International Communist Party Back to C.L. index - No. 10-11 - No. 14


12‑13 ‑ Summer 1999
- ORIGINS AND HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH WORKING MOVEMENT     - [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ]  (Part 2)  The bourgeois Revolution.
- THE ITALIAN LEFT AND THE INTERNATIONAL (Part 6/12) - The 2nd Congress of the C.I. (PETROGRAD, 19th July-7th August 1920): Organisation - The Tasks of the Party and the International - The Conditions of Admission to the C.I.
- Notes on the Opposition between Capitalist and Socialist Economics
- A Growing Anger at the Trade-Unions Leaders.
- The Liverpool Dockers Dispute, a Summing Up (or how not to conduct a strike)
- Yet another appalling TUC Annual Gathering.
- Australia: Wharfies Still Under Attack
- USA: All-Out Strike at General Motors.
- A Nice Test of Strength by then New York Builfing Workers.
- Against the slaughter in Kosovo And the bombing in Serbia: DOWN WITH THE IMPERIALIST WAR!
- Now as Before, War on War! Fight the Enemy in your own Country! Workers of the World Unite!

Origins and History of the English Workers Movement
(Part 2)  - [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ]


In English history, the 17th century was a crucial one insofar as it saw the ending of the Middle Ages. During the previous century, new commercial routes to the Far East had been opened up along with the "discovery" of new colonial possibilities in America, and in Europe itself there had been demographic growth accompanied by monetary inflation. Only Holland, the sole European country where the bourgeoisie has risen to power at that time, managed to overcome the crisis with ease, and indeed to emerge from it extremely prosperous. Its commercial predomination however would only last until its competitors in other countries, with richer natural resources and higher populations, had managed to throw off the chains of feudalism. Out of all the European powers it was England that would make the greatest leap forward, and lay the basis for it to become the first big industrialized imperialist power with a pre-eminent role in global policy and economy; a position it would maintain for three centuries.

The two enemy camps which faced each other at the start of the 17th century in England had been formed (as we saw in the last instalment) in the previous century on the back of what Marx called "primitive accumulation".

The monarchy, secure in its control of political and military power but continually in search of new sources of finance, had the backing of the traditional big feudal nobility, which had been ridden with crises for some time, and the official clergy, whose power was waning in the countryside and whose spiritual authority was continually being undermined by the rise of mainly Calvinist "non-conformist" sects.

In what we will call the bourgeois camp there was, on the contrary, an assemblage of different strata and interests which were in a state of growth, and which were actively accumulating money and claiming the right to be able to spend it how they chose. There were the big merchants, ship owners (mainly Londoners) and bankers on the one hand, whilst on the other there was the landed gentry, i.e. the medium and big agrarian bourgeoisie which had arisen after the dissolution of the monasteries, and which whilst often emanating from the lesser nobility nevertheless displayed a purely bourgeois and commercial mentality.

«The only explanation M. Guizot is able to offer of what to him is a great puzzle, the puzzle of why the English Revolution was conservative in character, is that it was due to the superior intelligence of the English, whereas its conservatism is to be attributed to the permanent alliance between the bourgeoisie and the greater part of the big landlords, an alliance which essentially differentiates the English Revolution from the French – the revolution that abolished big landownership by parcellation. Unlike the French feudal landowners of 1789, this class of big landed proprietors, which had allied itself with the bourgeoisie and which, incidentally, had already risen under Henry VIII, was not antagonistic to but rather in complete accord with the conditions of life of the bourgeoisie. In actual fact their landed estates were not feudal but bourgeois property. On the other hand, the landed proprietors placed at the disposal of the industrial bourgeoisie the people necessary to operate its manufactories and, on the other, were in a position to develop agriculture in accordance with the state of industry and trade. Hence their common interests with the bourgeoisie; hence their alliance with it» (Marx, [Review of] Guizot, 1850).

Naturally, the dividing line between the factions that fought with each other during the 1640s wasn’t clear-cut, and there was no shortage of renegades switching from one side to the other. There was also a geographical division which resulted in the North and the west of England being more realist, whilst the South and East, and most of the ports (all zones engaged in commerce, manufacture or mining), along with London, were predominantly supporters of Parliament. But particular individuals aside, the class interests of the contending factions were those described above.

The troops, the cannon fodder of the revolution, were principally drawn from the countryside, where the majority of the population still resided. It should however be noted that amongst the parliamentarians, and this was the big power of the bourgeoisie, there were numerous sons of the minor peasantry, tenants, artisans, and the small and micro-bourgeoisie who, born from the collapse of feudalism, thought themselves to be defending their own future by struggling against the aristocracy.

«Curiously enough, in all the three great bourgeois risings, the peasantry furnishes the army that has to do the fighting; and the peasantry is just the class that, the victory once gained, is most surely ruined by the economic consequences of that victory. A hundred years after Cromwell, the yeomanry of England had almost disappeared. Anyhow, had it not been for that Yeomanry and for the plebeian element in the towns, the bourgeoisie alone would never have fought the matter out to the bitter end, and would never have brought Charles 1 to the scaffold. In order to secure even those conquests of the bourgeoisie that were ripe for gathering at the time, the revolution had to be carried considerably further – exactly as in 1793 in France and 1848 in Germany. This seems, in fact, to be one of the laws of evolution of bourgeois society» (Engels, Socialism; Utopian and Scientific).

In the 1600s, proletarians (labourers, workers, servants, the poor and other propertyless classes) only really constituted a class in the statistical sense, even though it is estimated that they represented around half the population. They didn’t therefore appear as a political force in the revolution, or only insofar as they exerted influence indirectly on the parties in struggle, who would make decisions based on their fears about the unrest which could follow if the economic situation became insupportable. There are in this period however (and even before) the first signs of workers’ associations, of mutual aid societies, of co-operatives, occurring mainly (the Cornish tin miners for instance) in those rare instances where there was significant concentration of workers.

The chronicle of the reigns of James 1 and Charles 1 is a continual trial of strength between the Crown, constrained to govern in a world that for any enterprise whatsoever required increasingly large sums of money, and those who possessed this wealth, the emerging middle classes, who before releasing the purse-strings sought recognition of their right to be involved in decisions about how the money would be spent. Hence parliament, which was increasingly coming to represent the moneyed classes, tended to increasingly arrogate to itself the power to make decisions in the realms of public spending, foreign relations, commerce, domestic politics, and religion in order to shape the country to its requirements.

Constantly short of money, the monarchy, which was one of the worst off in Europe, counted on irregular taxations, which in order to be exacted promptly required the support of parliament, that is the bourgeoisie. And it was the bourgeoisie’s reluctance to pay up which pushed the king towards governing without parliament, and therefore towards a growing despotism. James 1 reasserted the theory of the Divine Right of Kings, in other words, independent power for the Executive, but in practice managed to co-exist with parliament. Charles 1, however, wasn’t quite as astute: by means of arrests and arbitrary imprisonment he managed to impose the taxation he required without parliamentary consensus, and without parliament he attempted to reign. Even in religious matters despotism tried to defend the church of England against the "puritan" heresies, and the elimination of their priests, the raising of tithes, and the theological measures which tended to make Anglicanism much more similar to Catholicism had among other things the consequence of favouring puritan emigration to America (as in the famous Mayflower episode).

During the period 1629 to 1640 Parliament wasn’t convoked, and Charles 1 was constrained to enact a series of unpopular measures to raise money; measures which enraged the bourgeoisie even further but who, through lack of organisation with the exception perhaps of London, were unable to do anything about it. The regime hobbled along at this stage rather well (notwithstanding the fact that it was increasingly difficult to raise taxes from a bourgeoisie which judged them to be illegal) but it lived in such an unstable equilibrium that it needed just one more incident to tip the balance. That incident materialised in the war against Scotland, and Charles 1 was forced to convoke Parliament in 1640, then three weeks later he dissolved it (the short parliament) and then in November of the same year he was compelled to convoke it again (the Long Parliament).

This time, thanks to the uprisings in the countryside against the enclosures and mass demonstrations in London, the bourgeoisie managed to gain better representation in the Parliament and impose its first measures on the King: destruction of the bureaucratic apparatus, negation of the formation of an army controlled by the King, abolition of illegal taxation, and control over the church by Parliament.

The Irish revolt in 1641 caused the crisis to come to a head: the refusal of parliament to entrust an army to Charles 1 caused an internal split between the progressives and the realists, the latter representing the classes which had most to lose if the social order was overturned.

In London, a new wave of popular uprisings (merchants, artisans, apprentices) provided the Progressives with the courage to denounce the king in the "Grand Remonstrance", an indictment which was approved by parliament and then published and distributed. The king tried to arrest the parliamentary leaders, but then fled with his followers to the north.

The Civil War had begun. The puritans, lacking a revolutionary programme, would nevertheless be the agents which unleashed the revolution: to defend their conquests in parliament they would have to defend them by force, until it became clear that the rising social-economic order which was taking shape was incompatible with the established order; to turn back would have been fatal, so they pressed on, lacking consciousness but backed up by the unstoppable weight of the gigantic economic forces which were gestating in society, and which were staking a claim to shape the world according to its needs. Cromwell himself confided in a friend that he didn’t know where it was all going, but it had to keep going forward.

Military operations commenced in the summer of 1642 after the two parties had managed to organise their armies. This was more difficult for parliament at the start since they lacked sufficient officers (nobles), but they had nevertheless an invincible weapon: money. Also, the ports and the Navy came over to the bourgeoisie almost immediately, which made it difficult for the king to receive assistance from abroad. After initial setbacks, parliament managed to equip itself with an army that was much more modern as well as strong numerically (the New Model Army). Trotski has described this phase of the revolution very well in Where is Britain Going?

«In the England of the 1640s we see a parliament based upon the most whimsical franchise, which at the same time regarded itself as the representative organ of the people.
The lower house represented the nation in that it represented the bourgeoisie and thereby the national wealth. In the reign of Charles I it was found, and not without amazement, that the House of Commons was three times richer than the House of Lords. The king now dissolved this parliament and now recalled it according to the pressure of financial need. Parliament created an army for its defence. The army gradually concentrated in its ranks all the most active, courageous and resolute elements. As a direct consequence of this, parliament capitulated to this army. We say: as a direct consequence of this. By this we mean that parliament capitulated not simply to armed force (it had not capitulated to the king’s army) but to Cromwell’s puritan army, which expressed the requirements of the revolution more boldly, more resolutely, and more consistently than did parliament.
The adherents of the Episcopal or Anglican, semi-Catholic Church were the party of the court, the nobility and of course the higher clergy. The Presbyterians were the party of the bourgeoisie, the party of wealth and enlightenment. The Independents, and the Puritans especially, were the party of the petty bourgeoisie and small landed proprietors. The Levellers were the party of the left-wing of the bourgeoisie, the plebeians. Wrapped up in ecclesiastical controversies, in the form of a struggle over the religious structure of the church, there took place social determination of classes and their re-grouping along new, bourgeois lines. Politically the Presbyterian party stood for a limited monarchy; the Independents, who then were called root and branch men or in the language of our day, radical, stood for a republic. The half-way position of the presbyterians fully corresponded to the contradictory interests of the bourgeoisie – between the nobility and the plebeians. The independents party which dared to carry its ideas and slogans through to their conclusion naturally displaced the presbyterians among the wakening petty-bourgeois masses in the towns and countryside that formed the main force of the revolution (...).
Any historical analogies demand the greatest caution especially when we are dealing with the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries; yet nonetheless one cannot help being struck by some distinct features that bring the regime and the character of Cromwell’s army and the character of the red Army close together. Admittedly, then everything was founded upon faith in predestination and upon a strict religious morality; now with us militant atheism reigns supreme. But running beneath the religious form of Puritanism there was the preaching of the historical mission of a new class, and the teaching on predestination was a religious approach to an historical pattern. Cromwell’s fighters felt themselves to be in the first place puritans and only in the second place soldiers, just as our fighters acknowledge themselves to be above all revolutionaries and communists and only then soldiers. But the points of divergence are even greater than the points of similarity. The Red Army formed by the party of the proletariat remains its armed organ. Cromwell’s army, which also embodied his party, became itself the decisive force».

Cromwell’s army wasn’t a confessional one however, and in fact within it there was far greater religious tolerance than in society at large. «The State, in choosing men to serve it, takes no notice of their opinions; if they be willing faithfully to serve it, that satisfies» Cromwell would say.

The officers, who often came from the poorest backgrounds, built their careers on their merits alone. The drilling and training was rigorous and an iron discipline prevailed, and the Ironsides would emerge as the diamond spearhead of Cromwell’s army, revolutionising cavalry warfare in the process.

In 1646, shortly before the end of the war, and after a run of brilliant victories which put Cromwell’s forces into an increasingly strong position (and during which providence always took the side of the heavier battalions) Cromwell himself returned to being a simple parliamentarian.

The Presbyterians, who represented the right-wing of the bourgeoisie and had been subjected to the will of the Left for many years, were victorious in parliament and happy with what had been achieved. For them it was now a question of getting back to business in a quiet environment, and this required amongst other things at least partial demobilisation of the army, which, as well as being costly, had become a breeding ground for extremists and sectarians.

But the niggardliness and arrogance with which this manoeuvre was attempted (they didn’t want to pay the soldiers their back pay) caused a widespread rebellion amongst the veterans who for four years had fought for the fat London merchants. First in the cavalry and then in the infantry divisions councils of deputies known as "agitators" were elected; a type of forerunner of the soviets.

Within these councils, the influence of the Levellers, a movement with a strong power base in the army, was a determining factor.

The Levellers were maybe the first real party of the modern epoch. By means of a number of eminent theoreticians and leaders (Lilburne, Walwyn, Winstanley etc.) it gave itself a democratic political programme which was so advanced that it wouldn’t have done badly as a programme of a bourgeois party of the 19th century.

The Levellers, who were the mouthpiece of the small and middle artisan and peasant bourgeoisie, unconsciously represented the truly revolutionary spirit of the Civil War. As well as contingent demands, the programme of the Levellers party included a number of other demands: universal suffrage, for all men who had reached their majority who were not "of servile condition" (revealing the class boundaries of this popular movement since "of servile condition" referred to all those dependent on an employer; wage-earners); local self-government; the most complete religious tolerance; freedom of speech, press and assembly; an end to the standing army and obligatory conscription; separation between Church and State; taxation related to earnings; and abolition of tithes, etc, etc.

Winstanley went even further and advocated the abolition of internal custom duties, universal education, state monopoly on foreign trade (one of the first measures taken by the Soviet Government in 1917), and even went so far as theorising a kind of socialist society.

Within the movement ideas and potentialities were unleashed which up until then had been repressed; there were theorisers of atheism (indicator of the extreme freedom of thought of the revolutionary years of 1642-1653); there were movements for the reappropriation of uncultivated and expropriated land, (the Diggers), an isolated example (of brief duration) of an organisation which proletarians could join; and most controversial of all perhaps were the warlike women who appeared on the political scene. This animated spirit resulting from the bourgeois revolution enjoyed a brief, exciting period, during which the group in power were forced to take notice of it; to the extent that in 1647 Cromwell himself sided with the rebel army, which at that time constituted an indomitable force.

Cromwell and his group of independents adopted an attitude during this period which whilst most suited to preventing the revolution from taking too radical a course, at the same time defended it from the internal forces of disintegration of the Presbyterians, who feared the revolution would go further than they liked and push them off the edge of the precipice.

Thus the movement in the army was channelled towards less subversive objectives, whilst at the same time allowing the agitators to capture the king without anyone batting an eyelid: Cromwell set himself at the head of the army in 1647 but didn’t hesitate to repress the troops’ most radical spokesmen; up to 1648 even Cromwell supported the king returning to the throne, but towards the end of the year he purged parliament and then conducted a ruthless campaign that ended with the beheading of Charles I, whereupon the war was resumed against the Realists and the Scottish.

The problem of the king having been resolved once and for all, and the break with the past having been accomplished (at least temporarily), it appeared evident to Cromwell that it was the Presbyterians who represented the bourgeois interest, and he effected a reconciliation with them in 1649 whilst at the same time, with another abrupt change of front, he arranged to settle accounts once and for all with the Levellers inside the army, who had started to accuse him of being a dictator. The arrests and executions of May ’49 were the signal to the big bourgeoisie that private property was safe, and that Cromwell could be considered their man.

With the country pacified, Cromwell dedicated himself to foreign affairs, that is, to the conquest of Ireland. This subject is too broad to discuss in depth here, but suffice to recall a letter Engels wrote to Marx in 1869: «things would have taken another turn in England but for the necessity for military rule in Ireland and the creation of a new aristocracy there»; and Marx «the English republic under Cromwell met shipwreck – in Ireland. Non bis in idem» (i.e. it won’t turn out the same in our revolution). Ireland was the first English colony, and its existence has always, in the history of England, had the effect of castrating all progressive movements, the democratic movement first and the proletarian movement second. «Irish history shows one how disastrous it is for a nation when it has subjugated another nation» wrote Engels to Marx; «The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland» wrote Marx to Engels. Later Engels would generalise «No people that oppresses another can itself be free».

In the homeland, only the Levellers (Walwyn) opposed military intervention and made the cause of independence for the Irish their own.

* * *

By 1653, Cromwell represented only the interests of the Presbyterian whilst the purged rump of the Long Parliament considered itself the depositary of the continuity of the puritan revolution; this dualism of power Cromwell quickly put to an end and ordered the soldiers to hunt down the members of parliament that intended to continue to exercise its functions. The booting out of the members of parliament (a fact we are not scandalised by because our respect for "freely elected" parliaments is no higher than Cromwell’s) finally revealed the true nature of the bourgeois revolution in England: it was the revolution of the merchant, financial and agro-capitalist sectors, who wanted it to go no further after it had served its purpose for them.

If it served their ends, absolutism was fine as well, be it under the form of monarchy or of personal dictatorship; the important thing was that their class was in a position to make the choices in the realm of political economy.

Cromwell became Lord Protector, and the five years which followed saw a military dictatorship govern the country in the name of the most strict conservatism in the church and the State; the radicals were purged from the key posts and in 1655, censorship was brought in

On the death of Cromwell it was clear to the big bourgeoisie that the wished for stability could only be maintained by another dictatorship, and Charles II, son of the beheaded monarch, was invited to return to the throne; even if the axe had worked for a while, his reign was the logical and painless continuation of the Protectorate.

Trotski, in his writing on Great Britain lingered around the subject of Cromwell, and his "Bonapartist semi-dictatorship", and it is worth reporting both what he wrote on that "heavy military hammer on the anvil of civil war" in whose person "Luther joins hands with Robespierre", and on the dictatorship in general: «If Lenin can be juxtaposed to anyone then it is not to Napoleon nor even less to Mussolini but to Cromwell and Robespierre. It can be with some justice said that Lenin is the proletarian twentieth-century Cromwell. Such a definition would at the same time be the highest compliment to the petty-bourgeois seventeenth century Cromwell.
The French bourgeoisie, having falsified the revolution, adopted it and, changing it into small coinage, put it into daily circulation. The British bourgeoisie has erased the very memory of the seventeenth-century revolution by dissolving its past in ’gradualness’. The advanced British workers will have to re-discover the English revolution and find within its ecclesiastical shell the mighty struggle of social forces. Cromwell was in no case a ’pioneer of labour’. But in the seventeenth-century drama, the British proletariat can find great precedents for revolutionary action. This is equally a national tradition, and a thoroughly legitimate one that is wholly in place in the arsenal of the working class. The proletarian movement has another great national tradition in Chartism. A familiarity with both these periods is vital to every conscious British worker. The clarification of the historical significance of the seventeenth-century revolution and the revolutionary content of Chartism is one of the most important obligations for British Marxists (...)
Cromwell’s task consisted of inflicting as shattering a blow as possible upon the absolutist monarchy, the court nobility and the semi-Catholic Church which had been adjusted to the needs of the monarchy and the nobility. For such a blow, Cromwell, the true representative of the new class, needed the forces and passions of the masses of the people. Under Cromwell’s leadership the revolution acquired all the breadth vital for it. In such cases as that of the Levellers, where it exceeded the demands of the regenerate bourgeois society, Cromwell ruthlessly put down the ’lunatics’. Once victorious, Cromwell began to construct a new state law that coupled biblical texts with the lances of the ’holy’ soldiers, under which the deciding word always belonged to the pikes. On 19th April 1653 Cromwell broke up the rump of the Long Parliament. In recognition of his historical mission the Puritan dictator saw dispersed members on the way with biblical denunciations; ’Thou drunkard!’ he cried to one; ’Thou adulterer!’ he reminded another. After this Cromwell forms a parliament out of the representatives of God-fearing people, that is, an essentially class parliament; the God-fearers were the middle class who completed the work of accumulation with the aid of a strict morality and set about the plunder of the whole world with the Holy Scriptures on their lips. But this cumbersome ’Barebone’s Parliament’ also hampered the dictator by depriving him of the necessary freedom of manoeuvre in a difficult domestic and international situation. At the end of 1653 Cromwell once again purged the House of Commons with the aid of soldiers. If the rump of the Long Parliament dispersed in April had been guilty of deviating to the right, towards deals with the Presbyterians – then Barebone’s Parliament was on a number of questions inclined to follow too closely along the straight road of Puritan virtue and thus made it difficult for Cromwell to establish a new social equilibrium. The revolutionary realist, Cromwell, was building a new society. Parliament does not form an end in itself, law does not form an end in itself and although Cromwell himself and his ’holy’ men regarded the fulfilment of divine behests to be ends in themselves these latter were merely the ideological material for the building of a bourgeois society».

Marxism considers that it is not individuals, however eminent or intelligent, who determine the course of history, but class and mass movements. It is these movements, often taking centuries to mature, which overturn, smash down, and reform social, political and economic conditions which had remained unchanged over long periods.

It is to the merit of marxism to have revealed the fundamental driving-force behind these upheavals, and our doctrine has always derided "leaders", "generals" and "chiefs" and that ubiquitous group of so-called "men of destiny"; on the contrary, we have always held such people to be simply "puppets of history", who are less capable in fact than any other mortal of making volitional acts and radical choices (in either direction); and the same goes even in regard to their own private lives.

Cromwell was certainly one such "puppet of history", although he did have the additional merit of (always!) being conscious of it. He was never linked directly to any definite movement, or was a member of any particular religious sect; he didn’t claim to have written any sacred texts or have inspired any eternal doctrines, but rather to be doing the work to which he thought "providence" had called him.

Cromwell was an honest-to-goodness opportunist: when asked to make a choice between monarchy, aristocracy or democracy he replied "any of them can be good in itself, or for us, according to how providence directs it". In effect, the reference to providence was in him the sign of a political change of front.

This was the secret of his victory, and with it the victory of the big bourgeoisie: not to tie ones hands with prescriptive formulas, but to manage the situation whilst keeping in mind a few minimum objectives, in order to create a society in which neither the lower classes, nor the aristocracy would be able to gain the upper hand. As opposed to the French Revolution, in England the two spirits of the revolution, the radical and reactionary, Robespierre and Napoleon, were fused in the continuity of the power of Cromwell; and the Restoration, even if it hung the Protector’s dead body from the gallows, didn’t modify the politics, or only insofar as it didn’t apply it so well.

There is no better epitaph for this servitor of the bourgeois State than one of his most famous sayings: "Nobody arrives so high as one who doesn’t know where he is going".

The Revolution of 1642-1648 is considered by the classical philistine English historians as a strange phenomenon, which is difficult to reconcile with the supposed legalitarian propriety of the British people: it is therefore often contemptuously referred to as the "Great Rebellion", and its importance is minimised with respect to the events of 1688-89, when the English bourgeoisie sacked the Stuarts and called on the Dutch House of Orange to take on the mantle of monarchy. For them this is the "Glorious Revolution", which drove out a king who was inept and unpatriotic without blood being spilt. in fact, it was a case of the final touches being made to a bourgeois society which wouldn’t have existed but for the painful delivery of forty years before.

The "Glorious Revolution" brought the businessmen to power; who didn’t look kindly on the decline of prestige which was occurring under the Stuarts (who hadn’t managed to adjust to the fact of the monarchy’s loss of power). However the Stuarts hadn’t rolled back the conquests of the revolution: whether the abolition of feudal rights, the massive enclosures, the abolition of the monopolies and all the economic controls so hated by the bourgeoisie, a foreign policy which prioritised commercial interests, the loss of power of the bishops and a greater religious tolerance (compared with the rest of Europe) and an exceptional awakening of scientific and philosophical thought.

Even fiscal taxation (increased since the revolution to notable levels) had become permanent and progressive, and the old feudal obligations no longer existed. Some relatively extreme measures would naturally reappear (abolition of the monarchy and the upper house, which however henceforth counted for little), but English society in 1689 differed from that of 1660 above all by the definitive confirmation of parliamentary control (gentry and mercantile oligarchy) over a strong executive.

With a few, vigorous lines Marx would give a clear synthesis of the revolutionary process and its determinism: «Although M. Guizot never loses sight of the French Revolution, he does not even draw the simple conclusion that everywhere the transition from the absolute to the constitutional monarchy is effected only after severe struggle and after a republican form of government has been gone through, and even then the old dynasty, become useless, has to make room for a usurpatory collateral line. The most trivial common places are therefore the only information he can give us about the overthrow of the restored English monarchy. He does not even mention the direct causes of it: the fear of the new big landed proprietors created by the Reformation that catholicism might be re-established, in which event they would naturally have to restore all the lands of which they had robbed the Church – a proceeding in which seven-tenths of the entire area of England would have changed hands; the dread experienced by the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie vis-à-vis Catholicism, which in no way suited their book; the nonchalance with which the Stuarts, to their own advantage and that of the court aristocracy, sold all English industry, and commerce as well, to the government of France, that is, of the only country which at that time dangerously, and in many respects successfully, competed with the English, etc.
M. Guizot does not consider it worthwhile mentioning that the wars against Louis XIV were purely trade wars to destroy French commerce and French sea power, that under William III the domination of the financial bourgeoisie received its first sanction by the establishment of the Bank and the institution of the national debt, and that the manufacturing bourgeoisie were given new impetus by the consistent application of a protective tariff system» (from A Review of Guizot’s book).

And quoting Marx again: «The victory of the bourgeoisie was therefore the victory of a new social order, the victory of bourgeois over feudal property, of nationality over provinciality, of competition over the corporations, of division over primogeniture, of dominion of landed property over the domination of land over property, of enlightenment over superstition, of the family over the family name, of industry over heroic laziness, of civil rights over feudal privileges» (from The Bourgeoisie and the Counterrevolution, 1848).

With the accession of William III another section of the bourgeoisie, the manufacturers, saw their dreams of power draw closer. This strata, still young, showed signs of a great future, along with its grand protagonist of that future, described by Engels as its "shadow", the industrial proletariat.

(Part 2)  - [ 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - ]


The Italian Left and the International - 1919-1921
(Part 6/12)

Prometeo no 5, 15th of  May 1924



Notes on the Opposition
between Capitalist and Socialist Economics

We have often remarked on the nature of communism as a classless, money less, society, and we will take that as read for the moment. What we will examine here is how this form of society can be achieved (transitional stage) and be maintained (communism). To do this we need to look at what is produced, how things are produced, and what needs to be changed in order to transform society towards socialism / communism.

Marx spent a lot of time examining the properties of commodities. Produced primarily in order to be sold, commodities have to have ’useful’ properties in order to attract buyers. Not all of the product sold to the eventual buyer is however really use value: under capitalism there is also the glitzy packaging, the advertising, and sometimes the ’free’ gifts which get the product into circulation. With the sale of the article the profit can be realised. But socialism and communism is not merely defined as the existence, or not, of profit: bankrupt enterprises are just as irrational as those which are highly profitable: the suppression or rather the redivision and socialisation of profit alone will not bring about a new society. The issue needs to be looked at in a wider context, in particular keeping in mind ’profit’ as something extracted from the whole of the working class, that is surplus value, or added value.

The expression ’surplus value’ can be misleading. It may give the impression that profit is purely a matter of book-keeping, consisting of what remains after all expenses have been paid. The expression "added value" is more precise, signifying that there has been an addition of value deriving from human labour.

The method of deducting from "total sales" the "legitimate expenses" sustained by the individual capitalist, or individual company, also hides the profits derived by other capitalists (and their state), the provision of ’services’, taxes and the profits taken by the owners of land the infamous rent.

Communism is not just about ending the profit obtained by the bourgeoisie which represents, say, 10% of the value of the goods sold-it is also about bringing under control the anarchy of the other 90% of production. It is not a question of merely returning to the producer "the full fruits of his labour" but freeing him / her from the drudgery of wage labour. Products, and production itself, will be totally transformed.

Communism will not merely be characterised by the production of ’useful’ commodities. Commodities will cease to exist not only because they are no longer sold, but because the mode of production itself will be different; with the satisfaction of needs, rather than exchange in order to realise profit, determining a completely different approach to what and how things are produced.

At the moment there is an internal duality to commodities as they are produced and consumed. These can be counterpoised as follows:
Production for use / Production for profit
Use Value / Exchange Value
Cost calculated in living labour / Cost calculated in dead labour (money)
Inventories / Accounting systems

Grouped in the left-hand column are those aspects inherent to consumption and production understood in a material sense, while the right-hand column deals with the reproduction of capital, the circulation of commodities until converted into money.

In a very general sense the left hand side is ’production for need’, and is what would remain after the destruction and extinction of the mercantile-capitalist system. Under communism, production will still require the forces of industry to be concentrated costs of production will still be computed, and measured in human labour time audits and inventories of what has been produced and what is in stock will still need to be carried out in order to produce for the needs of the population. The aim of these indispensable calculations however is purely technical since under communism exchange value ceases to exist: since there is no long exchange of equivalent values between consumers and centres of production (as former "firms" and "businesses" would then be better known).

The mercantile, capitalist system is expressed by the right-hand column. Goods are produced for exchange value, for their capacity to be sold in order to recoup the value upon sale. All the calculations in this system are based upon money alone, wage labour having been already converted into money. The movements within the system are decided and represented in ’double entry’ accounting terms which accurately reflect, in their two-fold movements between "economy" and "property", the internal conflict within capitalism. If something can’t be sold at a suitable price then don’t produce it at all is the capitalist’s refrain.

Unlike the scare-mongering of the bourgeois economists, we state boldly that the financial side of the production ’equation’ can be disposed of.

Capitalism is a social relation brought about by the following factors:
a) Money available for investment (potential capital)
b) Money converted into capital by the purchase of machines and other means of production, whether raw materials, or all the other auxiliary expenses (offices, warehouses and the like). These acquisitions are not made in a random way, but in order to bring the entire factory up to maximum efficiency and produce goods at the most competitive prices and therefore realise profit. In this sense capital is the result of investment in technology for the most productive use of labour, in other words, the most effective form of exploitation of wage labour.
c) But all these machines would stand idle without the living force needed to put them into motion: the working class. Their labour power is purchased (in the form of wages/salaries) and then they are put to work in order to produce goods and therefore profit.

There is united in the productive process two factors: capital and labour, the former being generated by the latter. Capital is not just abstract value but is made up of what Marx called dead labour, being the accrued value of previous workers labour. Money, for the most part, is the result of profits obtained by the exploitation of other workers, maybe in other countries, maybe in previous periods of time. That is what Marx meant by "the domination of dead over living labour". Goods are produced by applying living labour to dead labour, during which part of the usefulness of the machinery is used up (in economic terms-depreciated) in the making of the commodities. And so in the production of the commodities in the factory there are three factors: use of living labour, use of raw materials and the wear and tear of the machines, the product of the work of other workers.

The market system, so beloved of the economists, is usually referred to as a way of balancing the needs of the producer and the consumer. But the famous ’free market’ isn’t really free at all, but is always influenced in one direction or the other. It is sheer sophistry to maintain that ’consumers’ can in any way exert their influence on the system by being "politically correct" in their choice of commodities. It is a delusion of capitalist morality that all social problems should be blamed on the "free consumer customer", as, for instance, when the workers in the bigger capitalist centres are held directly responsible for hyper-exploitation of child labour in the poorest countries; or for the "destruction of the ecosystem" because of their "insatiable" demand for consumer goods. In fact the opposite is true: the cause of such human and environmental crises lies in capitalism’s need to sell any old rubbish to the famous "general public". It is the capitalists who control the market, however much the advocates of "rational consumption" go about trying to "change the world by changing themselves".

Who Takes the Decisions?

Under the existing property relations, the capitalists (owners of the means of production and the hirers of wage labour) claim for themselves the right to determine what should be produced, and how much; basing their decision on the anarchy of the market system and selling anything they can persuade people to buy.

But what will happen when the existing property relations are overthrown! Who will take the decisions then?

Notions about returning to the workers the "full fruits of their labour" still leave the workers imprisoned in the factory / enterprise, and the claim that workers should determine what is being produced under capitalism is still merely to speculate on the ’right’ to control. In business, the value of the commodities produced is calculated by reckoning up the value of the labour power and the value of the constant capital (machinery, etc.). The final price of the commodity represents all the value of the labour power used in the production of the raw and auxiliary materials, and the quota of fixed capital which has been consumed.

Therefore what goes to make the final product is not only the value added to the materials during the course of its manufacture, but also the raw materials, the power consumed (gas and electricity) and every other resource that has been brought in from outside the enterprise. The raw materials have value because workers have already worked upon them, i.e., dug minerals from the earth, grown plants and trees, and then transport them. Each part of the process of production and transport, uses up the living and dead labour (even if only in minute quantities) of other workers from around the world. It is the same with the value of the power consumed in the factory, which adds the labour power of the workers in the power industries to that of the dead labour crystallised in the potentiality of the plants concerned. The processes that make up the final product use the labour power of hundreds, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of workers across the planet.

In this, and only this, sense, modern capitalism installs a universal social relationship.

However, the laws that govern the survival or bankruptcy of businesses are always at odds with human needs. One only need think of the enormous saving of labour time there would be if production wasn’t carried out for its own sake. Instead of badly made products with built in obsolescence, objects of human need would be made to last: with a lower percentage of added costs, the lifespan of products could be multiplied tenfold or so) with a corresponding reduction in the necessity for repeated production!

The restricted nature of property relations and the productive structure of the enterprises typical under capitalism is immediately apparent. So then, deprived of the forces of supply and demand, who decides how the labour power of thousands of people will be used? Is it those who work in a particular plant, or those who supply the raw materials and services? Who determine what is produced? If it is the resources of society as a whole being utilised, then why shouldn’t society itself take decisions on what, and how much, is produced?

The enterprise, as a self-functioning unit typical of capitalism, needs to be done away with. We therefore reject the notion of factories trading with each other (as expounded by Gramsci, etc), and the idea of factories establishing new property relations upon which independent workers committees could be based (Pannakoek). As regards the units of production as they exist at the moment, which are established by capitalists to make profits from their investments, it is enough to recall that they are slaves to the impersonal nature of their particular balance sheets shaped around the chaos of the market.

Communism is the liberation of humanity from the particular and the contingent, so that it can truly fulfil it’s destiny as a species; living on an undivided planet and within a time frame permitting projects to stretch through generations, instead of their fate being determined during one session in the stock market. Another mode of production will arise that is more rational and responsive to the development of the means of production.

To begin with the watchword will be SLOW DOWN! There may be cases of productivity being intensified locally in some sectors, but in most others there will be a slowing up of the pace of industry and indeed a halting of the production of wasteful and dangerous products.

The need will inevitably arise to produce the necessities of life in an entirely different way. Only then will much derided communism, far from menacing "individualism", allow a real development of human potential. At least insofar as it is understood that we don’t mean the bourgeois individual and his creature the firm.

To be liberated from ’the firm’, along with the inevitable profit and loss account, entails the destruction not only of the buying and selling of products, but it also excludes the conversion of the means of production into capital. Having abolished the monetary accountability of the enterprise and the concept of investment capital. The notion of profit collapses as well.

We will free ourselves from economic calculations whilst maintaining an economy. There was a time when the means of existence were produced, stored and consumed without money changing hands. The word economy comes from the Greek, meaning household management. The situation in Mycenaean Greece was related by Homer Penelope in Ithaca would go into the storehouse, where all the produce was kept, and recorded in detail, but no money existed. Money doesn’t appear until 600 years later with the invention of coinage. Society, divided into closed circles, was used only to exchange the occasional surplus, mainly by means of barter. The circulation of slaves, and other especially valued goods, was achieved by means of piracy or sacking of cities. Economic calculations intervened only when money became involved in exchange, when the productivity of labour had developed sufficiently: and so commerce was born.

The Disappearance of Classes

After the disappearance of classes, society will take all the means of production and distribution into its hands, and satisfy human needs with what is available. That most precious of resources, human labour, instead of being squandered, will be managed and carefully conserved.

The period of transition, of evolution towards communism possible once bourgeois power has been overthrown in the major countries will allow the growth towards a society without classes and without money. Classes will not disappear overnight certainly, and during the transition period there will still be class struggle against the old proprietors of land and factories. But the proletariat will continue to gradually absorb into its ranks members of the other classes, until eventually it will become the only class, and thus cease to be a class.

During this transition the proletariat itself will be transformed and move beyond being communist just in a negative sense (i.e., in its seeking to resolve immediate demands, which is its destiny under capitalism).

These immediate demands of the working class under capitalism drastic reduction of the working day and integration of those excluded from production; solution to the housing problem by utilising empty properties already move in the direction of communism, however the changing of society to one without classes will also mean the super cession of the distinction between city and countryside, and the positive goal eloquently summed up by Marx, of "the naturalisation of man, and the humanisation of nature".

The present state, which holds together a society divided into classes, has to be overthrown and destroyed. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat also constitutes itself in a state form, but differs in that it will eventually "wither away", as Engels put it. This state form will resemble the preceding state insofar as it protects the power of a class. But as opposed to earlier class states it will differ in its aims, which is to enable the extinction of money, property, class privileges, and even itself.


Whilst events at, and surrounding, the 1997 biennial conference of the Transport and General Workers Union (TGWU) certainly confirmed a lot of the Party’s long held contentions about the increasing insertion of the trade union bureaucracy into the governmental apparatus, they have also provided evidence of increasing discontent about such a state of affairs amongst the rank-and-file of the union.

The TGWU was celebrating its 75th anniversary. The 1997 biennial conference, vaunted as "the parliament of the union" was therefore something of a festive occasion. There was a quasi-religious atmosphere in which the deputy leader of the Labour Party attended a ritual unveiling of the bust of ex-TGWU general secretary/cabinet minister Frank Cousins; lavish banquets were consumed to the dulcet tones of harp music; and mounds of expensive glossy literature, and souvenirs, including car-boot-sale-like china clocks and TGWU rock, were distributed to all delegates.

The conference brought together around 600 delegates (all clutching a goodly sized wad of cash from union funds) from the eight regions and the fourteen different trade groups (ranging from the power & engineering and the docks & waterways group, to the administrative, clerical, technical & supervisory group) and met over a period of 6 days to discuss the numerous motions submitted by all the various branches of the union.

It was not long before the tensions simmering just below the surface, centring on the conflict between the sacked Liverpool dockers and the union leadership, erupted into full view.

The dockers branches had submitted a number of motions to the conference which were highly critical of the leadership:
«Since the Liverpool dockers have been sacked by the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company they have fought courageously for reinstatement. They have built solidarity locally, nationally and internationally receiving tremendous support.The same support has not been forthcoming from the TGWU leadership. We totally condemn the way Bill Morris and the TGWU executive have refused from day one to make the dispute official. The TGWU leadership has done little to help the dockers get reinstatement.We call upon the TGWU Executive to make the dispute official, and to do everything possible to get the dockers reinstated» (Motion 419), and: «This Conference states that the Liverpool Docks Dispute was deemed to be unofficial by the TGWU leadership, yet the General Secretary recommended on several occasions that proposals on jobs and severance offered by Mersey Docks and Harbour Company to be voted on by an official, independent postal ballot, against the wishes of the majority of the members involved. Conference opposes the use of postal ballots unless strictly required by law or by agreement with the members concerned» (Motion 426).

And a number of other motions reiterated the call to make support for the dockers official and recommended various specific steps the union could take.

The normal procedure before a union conference is for several motions, which broadly cover the same ground, to be put together into ’composite motions’. This is ostensibly to avoid repetition, but also, as far as the union bureaucracy is concerned, to eliminate controversial aspects which can be safely buried in a ’general’ synopsis. The dockers motions however were considered such a hot potato that instead of an appropriate composite being drawn up, as requested by the dockers, an insipid ’Executive Statement’ was issued instead by the leadership. To a chorus of heckles, the Chairman informed delegates how morally wrong it would be «to squander all our resources on one cause» and «I’ve heard calls for the TUC to call a general strike to support the dockers. I’m a member of the General Council of the TUC. If you believe the General Council is going to call a general strike in breach of the law you are living outside our reality».

Many speakers spoke in favour of the dockers and pointed to the importance of solidarity actions, now illegal in Britain: "In the 50s and 60s when we were struggling, it was the dockers who backed the car workers we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them".

Finally the GEC statement went to the vote, and though a show of hands made it very clear that it had been defeated it was declared to have been carried. Amidst much uproar, and some very robust heckling, especially from the dockers supporters in the gallery, freed from the restraints of behaving in a "delegate-like fashion", the GEC had to promise a card vote the next day. The GEC statement would be defeated by 283 votes to 182.

The GEC had another trick up its sleeve. It had agreed earlier that if its statement was defeated, the dockers motions would be heard, but it now announced that the Standing Orders Committee, which is supposed to deal with organisational matters, had met and decided that the motions would be voted on without debate. Thus the Executive ended up defeating most of the dockers motions simply by "recommending" support or otherwise; and in the absence of debate, a lot of the delegates, many of whom were inexperienced and attending conference for the first time and were totally baffled by the union’s arcane procedures, had little to inform their judgement apart from the GECs recommendations. The only motion which the GEC was prepared to support was one which called for government "to regulate the use of labour in the docks industry" and bring an end to casualisation.

Thus, the same government which the GEC was so terrified would sequestrate its funds was the very same one which it entrusted with the task of addressing the dockers problems.

The rest of the conference went fairly quietly and operated as most union conferences do-by boring the delegates into submission. Very interesting reports however were made detailing the problems that various sectors face, but when it came to remedying these problems, the inextricable links between the Union leaders and the Labour Government became immediately apparent. All demands were immediately led down the garden path to legalism and respect for parliamentary democracy, which mainly took the form of general motions for general support from the Labour Government, or less often, for specific pieces of legislation on small details.

One branch had specifically challenged the stranglehold of the Labour Party on the unions, but this was considered such a heresy that it mysteriously disappeared off the agenda having apparently been ruled "out of order", although this was by no means made clear to the conference. The motion went as follows: «That this conference re-examines its support, solely for the Labour party, in view of recent statements of support for Tory anti-union laws by leading Labour Party members. The TGWU should extend its support for other working class parties». This motion, delegates were told, would have to be debated at a special rules conference.

The skulduggery afoot at the TGWU conference is by no means uncharacteristic. At the UNISON conference the opposition was represented by the 53 Hillingdon Hospital workers, sacked after refusing to accept a £40 a week pay cut imposed by private contractors Pall Mall. After 16 months, UNISON withdrew official support for the dispute because the strikers refused to accept the offer negotiated by UNISON with Pall Mall an offer which didn’t include the Hillingdon women getting their jobs back!

In the view of the Hillingdon workers, the real reason for this sell-out was because the union didn’t want to threaten the cosy recognition rights it had established with GRANADA; which took over Pall Mall this year.

In very similar fashion then to the TGWU congress, the standing orders committee of the 1997 UNISON Annual delegates Conference ruled out of order a number of resolutions which condemned the National Executive committee and called for official support to the Hillingdon strikers to be restored. But the UNISON leaders were even more inept in concealing their betrayal than the TGWU leaders and Speakers who attempted to address the conference and ask for the decision to be reviewed simply had the microphone turned off, forcing them to shout.

More dirty dealings were involved in the appearance of Motion 75; a motion which supported the leadership’s decision to end official backing, and which had been submitted by... the hillingdon workers’ own branch. How had the leaders achieved this propaganda coup. It appears the motion had been passed by the simple expedient of first conducting a smear campaign against the strikers, by circulating rumours that they had broken the branch secretary’s window, and then not inviting the strikers to the branch meeting.

Plainly serious discussion was not going to be accomplished in the conference hall, and the real discussion would take place elsewhere at a packed fringe meeting called by the Hillingdon workers, the Liverpool dockers, and another group in dispute, the Magnet workers. Here Malkiat Bilku, the Hillingdon strikers spokesman had this to say: «The union leaders never thought we would fight, they never thought we could win, they never thought we should fight. At last year’s conference, UNISON General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaffe said he fully supported us. What happened since? But we will fight Pall Mall, Hillingdon hospital management and the police, and we will fight the union leadership».

Another example of the shabby and cowardly response of the union leaders to the strikers’ challenges to their authority occurred at a recent rally to commemorate the Tolpuddle Martyrs. The UNISON leaders, on this solemn occasion called to commemorate the early trade-union pioneers who had been transported to Australia for forming a trade-union said they would refuse to address the rally unless the Hillingdon strikers, along with their banners demanding the right to address the rally, were removed. The Police duly obliged.

In the face of these setbacks, the various groups of sacked workers have had to bypass the union leadership, and look for support from each other and elsewhere. This support is still being sought from an abstract "general public" as much as from other workers, and as a result a number of solidarity groups have organised collections and brought together discontented workers from both within and without the unions, along with sympathising elements.

In the most optimistic hypothesis, these groups will manage to express the needs of the militant groups of strikers who gave rise to them, and extend to include other groups of struggling workers. But in order to retain these limited objectives, they will need to keep themselves distinct from both the official union structures and the official party of the unions the Labour Party. But even if this particular expression comes to nothing, the necessity to organise OUTSIDE AND AGAINST THE OFFICIAL TRADE-UNIONS will continue to make itself felt.

One objective of the pole of opposition which is forming is to overturn the anti-union laws; laws which are not directed against the trade-unions as such, but against unofficial strikes, i.e. against those militants within the trade-unions which have always been at odds with the leadership. The real implication of these laws has been to concentrate power in the hands of the leadership whilst before it was much more dispersed, when groups of workers could far more easily launch unofficial actions and call on solidarity from other sectors of workers.

The call to change the anti-union laws will not however become a reality through petitions and pointless appeals to the Labour Party. A common feature of the union conference fringe meetings has been the inevitable figure of well-known Labour Party "left-wingers", whose inevitable effect was to poison the atmosphere with respect for legalistic measures and bourgeois democracy.

It is no coincidence that these people always appear when the atmosphere is hotting up and inevitably leave behind them a trial of confusion and a subtle sense of respect for professional politicians whose upshot is a removal of authority and initiative from the workers themselves. And that particularly insidious bit of re-writing of history which constantly harks on about the "traditional links" between the unions and the Labour Party makes their task that much easier. In fact communists have "traditional links" which stretch back a lot further, we need only think of the First International. The only real links which the Labour Party has, and always has had, is with the union bureaucracy; a link which is used to hold back the floodgates of workers’ rebellion and to march them up to the top of the parliamentary hill, only in order to march them down again.

If the Labour Party has ever done anything remotely in the interests of the workers (and let us not forget that the Tory and Liberal parties were co-responsible with the Labour Party in setting up the Welfare State) it has always either been when it was compelled to appear a bit militant in order to draw workers away from the path to genuine revolutionary solutions (in other words when it was compelled to adopt a centrist stance revolutionary in words and reactionary in practice); or else during a boom-time, when the bourgeoisie can afford to brush more breadcrumbs off its banqueting tables than during a slump. If Lenin, mistakenly in our view, saw the Labour Party as a kind of broad front, and prone to manipulation during a revolutionary period, no longer can we say either the Labour Party or the situation is the same today.

The now inevitable submitting of motions at the union conferences calling on the leadership to break the anti-union laws will also not meet with any success. Should such a motion be passed (and it won’t, so this is purely hypothetical) the will of the leadership to actually carry it out would still be required. After the dust of conference had died down, there would be delays, then commissions, and then, no doubt, plenty of procedural ways of avoiding any major policy they would not wish to endorse.

The objective of getting rid of the laws which hold back secondary action and workers’ solidarity in general will only become a reality when sufficient momentum, and sufficient levels of organisation, have build up to the extent that the laws can be broken in the heat of struggle. This will involve building up alternative forms of organisation either from scratch, or even from sections and branches of the old unions, or fragments of them, which will increasingly risk expulsion as they line up around a militant policy. How this process will come about, it is difficult to say, but in the absence of any reliable leadership from the official trade-union leadership one thing is clear: a new poll of opposition will have to be built-up and hopefully it will be built up from the germinal poll of opposition which already exist. If it seems difficult to see now how this could possibly happen, we remind comrades and workers that this process is already underway in Italt, where workers have been compelled to build new organisations to fight their economic battles.

We welcome the fact that the union leaders and their political allies are showing themselves as open enemies of the proletariat the dispossessed who have nothing to sell but their labour power and we welcome the initiatives which militant workers are making to forge ahead to build an organisation aimed at building workers solidarity. Hopefully this will forge on to build a real CLASS UNION, which refuses to accept the limited sectorial NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE BOSSES so beloved of the union mandarins. We see these tentative steps as potentially the start of a move towards genuinely independent organisations of the working class.

* * *


We have already referred to the determined fight by the Hillingdon strikers in their fight to be reinstated. The their union UNISON, which had been more than happy to take their membership fees while they were at work, has dumped them and left them to their own devices. But they continue to fight against all the odds. They have won Industrial Tribunals which stated that they should be re-engaged, but still the employers will not take them back. So far they have nothing to lose after four years, and are continuing their fight.

The attacks upon their conditions was not just the actions of "greedy bosses" but essentially stems from the ruthless assaults upon the conditions of workers in the Health Service, both public and private. The privatisation of services, and the resort to Private Finance Initiatives in order to pay for new buildings, can only work if the cost of labour is constantly reduced. This is a Government-directed strategy. The Health Service has long ceased being for the benefit of the people, and has been turned into one were profit is King, and costs the primary concern.

Those on the Left who try to convince workers to defend "Jobs and Services" as if the state sector, like the unions, are matters to be defended, are not providing a strategy for the workers, but on the contrary are preparing for their defeat. The existing "patriotic" unions are registered with, and protect the interests of the state. The property of the state does not belong to the "people", but is placed at the disposal of all the capitalist class, and them only.

Only when the workers are able to organise economically as a class, and consequently politically through the communist party, can the class struggle be taken forward to its permanent resolution. This can not be done by fettering workers to bourgeois division of industrial divisions, nor to preferring state property and services to private ones. All restrictions to class organisation has to be broken down, in the class struggle itself.

We must return to the old watchwords, such as: An Injury to One, Is an Injury to All!

The Liverpool Dockers Dispute, a Summing Up
(or how not to conduct a strike)
"Those who work hard and do their best
go down the road like all the rest"
(an old workers’ saying)
The dispute by Liverpool dockers went on for well over two years. It involved incredible determination and sacrifices, by not only the dockers themselves, but their families and supporters. They suffered vilification in the press, arrests on the picket line, and some were injured by being run down by vehicles entering the port. In doing this summing up of the dispute, and criticising the tactics pursued, and the inability to break with the union stranglehold, we do not intend to personalise (as some have done), nor to denigrate the dockers. But on the other hand, those who have just followed the dockers, without having offered any other ways forward, have done an equally destructive disservice to the dockers, as the denigrators did, by simply applauding, and justifying, the hopelessly false notions of convincing the bosses and their state that it was in their interests to have the strikers back.

The dockers were set up long ago to be "sorted out", and that was done through the mechanisation, applauded by the supporters of the Devlin ’decasualisation’. The introduction of containerisation was never intended to give dockers a secure future the working class has never really had a secure future under capitalism. The constant drive for profit means insecurity, sweat, illness, and sometimes death. It is the lot of the proletariat until capitalism itself is "made redundant", by a genuine production for need not profit, when balance sheets, and capitalist concepts, become fit for only the gruesome wings of museums.

The Background to the Dispute

The strike by almost 500 Liverpool dockers (including Torside workers) which started on 28th September 1995 finally collapsed in January 1998. The terms for the settlement? a few getting employment, with the majority given severance payments not a lot though considering most will never work again. It looks remarkably similar to the deal rejected a year before.

The dockers had been employed by the Mersey Docks & Harbour Company [MDHC], or subsidiaries / contract companies, and Liverpool was reputed to be the last unionised port after the strike against the abolition of the National Dock Labour Scheme [NDLS] in 1989. All the other ports went over to the use of casual labour. The MDHC had made a promise that casual labour would not be introduced into what was left of the Liverpool docks, mainly the complex around the Seaforth Container terminal. With this "guarantee", and total union collaboration by the Transport & General Workers Union [TGWU], the work-force was more than halved, from 1,100 to about 500 between 1989 and 1991. Some work was already being contracted out to other companies. It was during a dispute over the loss of jobs on the Irish Traffic Berth that the Shop Stewards (minor union officials amongst the work-force) were derecognised.

The Company and the Union entered into a new deal on totally changing working practices, which included annualised bonuses, a twelve hour shift which could start at any hour of the day (instead of the old fixed eight hours shifts) the end of over-time payments for week-end work, and workers to be on permanent stand-by at home just in case they were telephoned to go into work. Along with these changes went a reduction of average pay by 25%.

The issue of the recognition of the Shop Stewards became an essential part of the implementation of new working practices. The MDHC agreed to have Shop Stewards recognised providing that a Union/Management Accreditation form was signed by those elected, and that postal ballots for the positions were held, replacing the traditional show of hands at a shop-floor meeting. This accredited shop steward system was obviously what the TGWU wanted, and they pressed that it be implemented, despite the fact that a third of the dockers objected to having the election at all. Meanwhile, the real attacks were about to begin.

The threat of mass sackings, with jobs being advertised in the local papers, forced through acceptance of the measures by only five votes. The distraction of keeping the officially backed shop stewards obviously helped to tip the balance in favour of accepting the reorganisation. The dockers would pay a fatal price for voting for the deal. Not only did it prepare the way for the final sackings three years later, but it also meant they threw away the chance of combining with casual workers and waging a fight to protect the interests of all the workers in the dock industry, and beyond.

The Initial Dispute

The 1995 dispute began as a strike/refusal to cross a picket line, composed of 80 younger dockers dismissed by a separate contracting company (Torside). It then became a lock-out when the MDHC dismissed all the workers involved. Torside Ltd had dismissed 20 workers in the previous month (August 1995), intending to replace them with casual or part-time workers. The Torside workers refused to accept this and began picketing the docks. The initial dismissals were withdrawn, then all of the Torside workers were "finished up" on the 26th September. Confronted by this situation other dockers, who were then permanent employees of MDHC, refused to cross the picket line and were then sacked in turn. The union, the TGWU, moved in to convince the workers to return to work for 9th October the employers refused to allow this to happen, so a lock-out began.

It was a strike as far as the workers were concerned, a lock-out for the union. The workers demanded all of them being reinstated, and the union held some meetings to try to get a deal where some workers would be taken back, and the others paid-off. The derisory amounts initially offered were heavily voted down by the strikers.

On the 23rd October MDHC announced that they intended to replace the entire workforce with contract labour brought in from other ports and locally recruited strike-breakers. After that the strike was an uneasy combination of activities to widen the strike and a public campaign to influence the shipping companies which used the port. Using as their slogan a quotation from the shipping industry’s publication, Lloyds List, "Liverpool Dockers, the best in Europe" the Shop Stewards committee insisted that they were for maintaining a profitable port on the Mersey. In fact they were continuing the policies enforced by the Union in 1993, which they had failed to oppose as they thought their existence as a body was more important than the fight against this new deal.

The union had collaborated in halving the work-force. Jobs disappear through "natural wastage", so workers have not officially been made redundant some workers leave for other jobs, are retired or become permanently unfit for work. It is a typical trade unionist way of seeing the issue. Those who leave a particular industry by taking redundancy payments are castigated as "having sold their jobs" as if they were depriving other generations of ’birthrights’. The scorn and insults directed at those who have left have only helped to isolate further those who remain.

The many thousands of dock workers, who in the past had been made redundant had taken the money had seen what was coming and voted with their feet by leaving the industry. Amongst those who left the docks were most of the more militant workers who constituted the hard core of unofficial strikes, in fact most of those who had opposed decasualisation.

Decasualisation, through the Devlin scheme implemented from the late 1960s onwards, did not, as the TGWU and the Stalinists around Jack Dash claimed, bring dignity and security. As far as the term ’decasualisation’ is concerned, it is a distraction. The old system when dockers could be hired for a few hours, or half-a-day, had ended during the Second World War (an intensive war couldn’t be fought by the bosses with such a system) and was replaced by the ’pool system’ operated by the NDLS, the supplier of labour for the shipping bosses. It was this ’pool system’ that allowed the dockers to organise themselves, and through a long-term economic offensive, to raise their pay, and dignity, to such a level that it became a threat not only to the interests of the port industry, but also at times to the national economy itself. In a very real sense, the ’pool system’ tended towards the unification of the workers, which is one reason it was abolished, while the assigning of workers to different employers, led to their division, and fragmentation.

The desire for permanent bosses meant the workers being handed over directly to be employed by companies that were determined to exploit the docks, and dockers, in order to obtain the biggest possible profits. This brought mechanisation, massive reduction of the work-force and wage rates, and prepared for the final "sorting out" of the dockers.

The Initial Campaign for Support

The first leaflet calling for a Community March and Rally had as one its slogans "Liverpool is our port and should be maintained in the best interests of our community". The leaflet asked taxpayers to consider how public money had been spent, and pointed out that the Government still had a 20% stake in the MDHC. At that time there was a Tory Government, which controlled the shares. Labour under Blair held out until the strike was over, and the share price went up, and like any other bunch of capitalists, sold the stake for a considerable profit.

The same leaflet went on to say that the ship owners "are rightly, publicly critical" of the MDHC. And seeking allies amongst ship owners rather than amongst other sections of workers very much catches the tone of the leaflet. It does not appeal mainly to workers, or confront the issues that relates to masses of workers, but appeals to regional and civic pride, i.e. "Our Port [being] the historic lifeblood of our community symbolises the regeneration of our great city" which predominate. It is exactly the same Stalinist debacle being prepared as that of the miners in 1984-5, with the defence of the mining industry as an industry, rather than putting the fate of the workers first, foremost and solely.

The earliest platforms creaked under the weight of MPs and other bourgeois rabble, with a few honorary workers. As the strike dragged on, and ’respectable’ speakers melted away, a ’turn’ was made to other trade unionist leaders, especially senior shop stewards and convenors from local factories. These arch-collaborators of productivity deals and other attacks upon the workers in the factories they ’represented’, basked in the glow of solidarity, meanwhile propagating alleged comments of shop floor workers of the "what have the dockers ever done for us" variety. This allowed the speakers to give their own version of Monty Python’s ’what have the Romans ever done for us’ sketch. The support given by dockers in the past in supporting other workers’ unofficial actions was stated. Some money was collected, but not the slightest hint of strikes in support was given.

It is certainly correct though that there was support given frequently by dockers to assist and support other workers in struggle. This often amounted to ’blacking’ of goods being imported/exported from specific factories, to more political strikes, such as against the Vietnam War. But the dockers who gave this support were the old unofficial movements, outside the control of the TGWU, and later their shop stewards.

The leaders of the strike had no connection to, indeed were fierce opponents of, the old unofficial movements, and their organised expressions. We will deal with all this at length in another study, but in brief: the unofficial movement, the independent port workers committees, along with the breaking of the closed shop by the existence of the "Blue Union" (the National Amalgamated & Stevedores Union) was an obstacle to the modernisation of the docks. This modernisation could only be accomplished by destroying the unofficial movements, and asserting the authority of the TGWU. This was done through the Devlin Report, and decasualisation. The shop stewards (supporters of the Devlin Plan) and minor officials in the TGWU, assisted in the modernisation of the docks and they themselves became eventually casualties in due course. Unfortunately, they never drew any conclusions from all this.

An ’International’ Turn

The initial approaches to the MDHC shareholders having failed to have the dockers reinstated, and as demonstrations outside the Stock Market and other venerable bourgeois institutions failed to bring forth solidarity from big business, a shift of tactics took place. Unwilling to confront the union bureaucracies, or engage in actions which would threaten the union’s assets, an ’international’ turn took place. This ’international’ direction became a substitute for addressing the rest of the working class in Britain. We never criticise any internationalising of disputes, indeed we always look for ways of broadening out the class struggle wherever possible, but a proper balance between ’national’ and ’international’ tactics always needs to be struck. Also, in a very real sense, as Marx pointed out with regards to the Polish question, internationalism begins at home.

Part of this ’internationalising’ of the dispute was an attempt to convince one of the MDHC’s most important US customers, American Containers Ltd [ACL], to revoke its contract unless the original workforce was reinstated. A picket of three Liverpool dockers flew to New York, caused temporary stoppages to ships sailing to Liverpool, leading to support from American dockers. Other ports were contacted and promises of support from around the world, including some strike action, and desperately needed money was sent, to sustain the strike. Strikes and blacking took place from time to time in many ports, as far away as Australia.

A Dockworkers’ International Conference was held in Liverpool on 17-23 February 1996, with delegates and well-wishers from many ports throughout the world. Good relations were forged between sections of dockworkers, and also the women who had determinedly supported the strike from the beginning, came to the fore under the title of WOW! [Women of the waterfront]. The widening of action to affect other ports within Britain was declined. This fact was admitted in the front page statement in the Dockers Charter No 5, March 1996: "The Mersey Port shop Stewards’ Committee knowing that their action was unofficial and illegal and that they could not get physical support from dockers in any of the other British ports, turned to their brothers in countries around the world".

Reverence and respect for the anti-union [in reality anti-strike] laws is what prevents the linking up of different sections of workers. The very fact that MDHC also owns the Medway port, near London, seemed to have been forgotten, and no real attempt was made to spread the strike there. If the strikers had, they would have come into immediate conflict with the TGWU.

Nor was a turn towards other workers under attack, whether nationally or locally, addressed. Indeed it was highly unlikely that such an approach could be made. Liverpool City Council let the dockers use the Council Chambers in the Town Hall for the Conference. Fulsome praise for such help was given to Council leaders, but this ensured that any linking of the dockers dispute with the attacks being made upon the Council workers in Liverpool (children’s residential care workers conditions were under attack, workers under temporary contracts were being dismissed, use of sectional work rather than ’proper contracts of employment’ exactly the type of attacks being practiced by the Dock Company) would never take place.

Dockers Support Groups

Dockers Support Groups, composed of trade union activists, had been formed in some areas, notably in London and Clydeside, but an effective one was never formed in the Merseyside area.

These Support Groups were brought together at a National Labour Movement Conference held on 27th April 1996 at Transport House, Liverpool the Regional premises of the TGWU. There were 195 delegates, representing either workers’ groups, union branches, political groups, or just themselves. It was a cross-section of all the political confusion that still dominates the workers in Britain.

One of the purposes of the Conference was to discuss solidarity action for May 1st. In the course of the discussions, criticisms were made of the role of the leadership of the TGWU. Also it was obvious that amendments to the prepared resolutions were being suggested. The chair of the meeting, a dockers shop steward, made the position clear to the meeting as far as the dockers shop stewards were concerned "Behind the scenes the TGWU is supporting the dockers and getting the dockers ’unofficial’ representation". He further went on to say that they "will not put up with criticism of the TGWU they are 100% behind themselves and 100% behind the leadership". It was made obvious that that should be kept in mind regarding resolutions being moved.

With this "firm stance" being taken not surprising seeing that the TGWU premises were being used by the strikers, along with the phones, faxes, etc. the main reason for this subservience is because the TGWU was paying hardship funds to the strike committee. Get too far out of line and the financial help will be stopped!

The main trotskist groups, in particular the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party (Workers Press) and Militant Labor, quickly came into line, not wanting to fall out with the strikers leaders. There was much talk about influencing the union, rebuilding the leadership, etc, but the existing leaders shouldn’t be upset too much! There was only minority vocal support for an amendment criticising the TGWU, but this sort of amendment was ruled out of order by the Chairman.

Support was expressed for the May Day solidarity demonstration, and one such occasion will be given as an object lesson about a certain type of trade unionist support that is worthy of examination. A representative of the Liverpool UNISON branch was making a clear declaration that their branch, and in particular the social workers, would all be out on May Day and giving support to the dockers. This did not take place, for the following instructive reason. It is our information that all the social workers in Liverpool, just before May Day, were handed two letters, one from Liverpool City Council and the other from the leadership of UNISON. Both were identical in content, if not exactly identical in wording the proposed strike is unofficial, unlawful, and could put the workers concerned in breach of their contract of employment. Except for some individual absences, there was no mass walk-out, no solidarity action. More significantly, no lesson was drawn. The same union branch, depleted over the years by people leaving or defecting to other unions, still passes resolutions, calls Conferences, expresses support for issues, but if it can’t confront and defy its union leadership, what is the point of all this paper talk.

A significant demonstration on May 1st 1996 did take place, but the real issues confronting the dockers, never mind the workers as a whole, were never addressed. The veranda of Liverpool Town hall was used by speakers to address the demonstrators. The irony of the situation, that this was the same City Council who threatened its own staff if they dared to go out on strike, should be noted. Solidarity was proclaimed, but towards what end was never stated. There was even a Media Star on the platform, declaring that dockers are sexy! A Bosnian Miners’ Trade Union representative expressed support for the dockers and made appeals as "our mining company needs money to operate properly…". A company which if it had the resources would presumably do to their workers what the MDHC were doing to the dockers!

The Quiet Collapse of the Dispute

Soon after the May Day solidarity march had taken place the shop stewards announced that the dispute was going to arbitration, through the services of ACAS. (Such conciliation is to arrange a deal in which the employers interests are maintained and some crumbs thrown to the workers.) The main discussions would in fact eventually involve discussions between the MDHC and the TGWU, the shop stewards being tucked away in a side room. This must be what the leaders of the striking dockers saw as getting representation through the TGWU and having real talks with the port bosses.

All the manoeuvring through the TGWU to convince the bosses to give them their jobs back came to nothing. There was a spate of campaigns to convince specific shipping companies, such as ACL, to pull out of Liverpool, but this came to nothing either. There seemed to be some sort of belief that if economic pressure was brought to bear, then the share-holders of the company would tell the Directors to give the workers their jobs back! This is a case of an illusion in democracy gone mad. Share-holders, mainly big institutions, are only interested in the profitability of the enterprise, and profits can only be increased by attacks on the workers. Just before the final collapse of the strike an interesting demand was made to "destock the Dock"; for any Trade Union pension fund, etc, who had shares in the MDHC, to pull out in protest at the way that the dockers had been treated.

Further deals about "settling the strike" were voted down by the strikers. Activities gradually subsided until it amounted to a few international contacts and the running of an internet Website, demonstrations of supporters, and the publication of the "Dockers Charter", which had the following demands:
1. No return to casual labor
2. Real jobs in a profitable and expanding port for the unemployed of Merseyside
3. No victimisation. All sacked workers to be reinstated.
4. Reinstate trade union recognition, and recognise elected shop stewards

The very ’reasonable’ demands were not only to appeal to ’reasonably-minded’ people everywhere, but also to keep well in with the TGWU leaders, especially considering that the strikers continued to use the Liverpool offices of the union for meetings and as an organizing centre. Whenever matters started getting difficult the national leadership strongly hinted that they would be ejected, the strike committee would make half-hearted plans too operate outside, and then came back into line. The very fact that one of the strike leaders was also on the National Executive of the TGWU did not count for much in the end. The TGWU pursued its own interests, that of considering the wider interests of the docks industry, which obviously did not include the strikers. The leadership of the TGWU was never criticised by the strikers’ leaders Bill Morris was after all elected as the candidate of the "left". He was their man, their preferred choice as leader, and they were stuck with him.

Whilst all the negotiations were taking place to "settle the dispute" through official negotiations by the TGWU, picketing at the dock gates was taking a heavy toll on the strikers. Violence, intimidation and frequent arrests were what the dockers faced. The supposed intervention of the International Longshoreman’s Association of the East Coast to block loading and unloading of ships calling at Liverpool came to nothing.

The situation was crying out for a change of strategy and tactics, because the "international turn", "the world is our picket-line" approach, was obviously not working. The families of the strikers faced an increasingly difficult financial situations as the first anniversary of the strike approached. A change did take place, but a change for the worst. That change was towards populism of the most bankrupt kind. It was to remove what proletarian content the strike still had, and drown it in a morass of single issue politics, such as environmentalism, etc. The political cover for this change was provided by trotskists of the Workers Press and Militant Labour.

Enter and Exit the "Eco-warriors"

Fresh forces were to be brought onto the field of battle, so it was claimed, under the title of "Reclaim the Future". That is what was claimed in the anniversary issue of the Dockers Charter. The Workers Press of 24th August had prepared for this change by turning the whole issue of the solidarity demonstration into an anti-pollution jamboree: Polluters threaten Merseyside. The dockers had been turned from fighters in defence of their jobs, to friends of the environment!

The term Eco-warrior is the name adopted by environmental activists who see themselves as valiant defenders "of the planet". No doubt personally brave, they often wage fights to prevent by-passes, air ports, and the like, being built. They are often portrayed in the media as digging tunnels, living in trees, all to prevent sections of land being converted into roads, etc, runways, car parks, etc.

The connection between the line taken in the two journals was not an accident. Leading trotskists of the Workers Press were taking over the editorial production of the Dockers Charter. trotskists were going back home to Stalinism. Soon afterwards, the Workers Press was abandoned as a journal and the WRP slid further into a moribund crisis. They were not the only casualties of this ’left cover’ for the dockers shop stewards. Those of Militant Labour (afterwards renamed the Socialist Party), who were desperate to get well in with the shop stewards, have recently abandoned trotskism and moved towards libertarianism. The list of political casualties, those who abandoned principles because they wanted to be close to "workers" is actually quite extensive. What characterises all of them is that they have learnt nothing from the whole debacle.

The anniversary demonstration would duly take place, with some environmentalists getting into the port to protest over toxic waste imports. A party was held, and they all went home again. The dockers were subsequently left high and dry.

Was there an alternative open to the dockers were there other forces which could have been mobilised, and new links established? There was at the same time a very vocal campaign going on about changes to the unemployment benefits system it was being replaced with a Job Seekers Allowance. The state was expecting those claiming benefit as being unemployed to demonstrate they were actively seeking work, and willing to accept anything offered, including work which in financial terms would amount to pay set at the usual benefit rate with a derisory "top up" with employers enlisting on the scheme meanwhile receiving a substantial Government handout as "a training allowance".

There was, and still is, a very real prospect of an American-style Work Fare arrangement either do some form of work, or get nothing at all. But no such link was made between the dockers and the unemployed. It was certainly a very difficult prospect organising the unemployed, and would have brought them into conflict with the so-called labour movement, in particular the bureaucrats in the trade unions and unemployment centres. Difficult it would be, but it would have given more secure prospects of winning the dispute than allying themselves with flighty environmentalists.

A TGWU Inspired Deal

By December 1996 the TGWU leaders were back in discussions with MDHC in order to achieve a ’settlement’. Payments of up to £25,000, with an additional £3,000 for a fixed term 12 week contract (they would not be expected to turn up for work), which would allow them to claim that they had been made redundant. They would also be able to apply for 40 jobs that were available, if of course the MDHC saw fit to take them back. It was unlikely that they would get jobs back on the docks, unless in ancillary roles.

The offer was made a week before Christmas, and would be withdrawn on New Years Eve. It is a favourite tactic to push matters through at such times in the hope that the workers would be desperate enough to accept such an offer, but it is often the response of the workers at such moments that they feel that they have lost so much it is not worth accepting bad terms. The offer was rejected.

In January 1997 proposals were unveiled by the dockers shop stewards to "break the logjam" and provide a compromise deal. This deal was actually prepared by the TGWU leadership, and showed which way they would like their relationship with employers to go! The dockers would get their severance pay, form a cooperative, and provide workers to the MDHC as a labour supply contractor! The MDHC would be the majority share-holders, and other backers would have to be found to provide investments.

This proposal, stated the shop stewards, was a common sense solution, and would have to operate on a commercial basis. The very fact that they would have to undercut the already appalling wage rates paid to the strike-breakers was never mentioned. Nor was the fact that they would be implementing what the strike was fundamentally against, casualisation. In fact the MDHC was not interested in discussing this particular proposal. The real role of this ’deal’ was to divert the strikers from looking for other solutions and to keep everything focused on the economic viability of the port. It also revealed the real interests of the TGWU, the securing of the economic interests of the port bosses, at the expense of their members. In this matter it is impossible to insert a feeler gauge between the interests of the bosses and the TGWU.

Nothing came of this proposal, and another year went by, with a few demonstrations of support, each more desperate and with a steady decline in supporters. Finally, in January 1998, the vote of acceptance for ending of the strike was carried by a majority of 4 to 1. At the time the shop stewards wouldn’t say what had happened to force them to recommend acceptance of the MDHC’s pay-off. It did come out a few days later however that the TGWU had threatened to stop paying into the strikers hardship fund.

In summing up, all the notions of seeing the existing unions as being open to being influenced by the workers, without being organised as a class, has led to disaster. The desire to find bastions of class struggle within the trade unions which have demonstrated time and time again that they are on the side of the bosses only helps to lead the workers to defeat. It becomes a cover for treachery and defeat. Tail-ending such manoeuvres merely leads to collaborating in workers being stitched up and defeated. Negative lessons are often the most vital in this case it is how not to conduct a strike.

Eventually as has begun to happen in other countries, workers economic struggles will be forced to move their centres of organisation outside the official unions, tied by a thousand ties to the state, and wrest power away from so-called "workers leaders" whose main goal has long been to park their substantial posteriors in the House of Lords!


In England the coming of autumn means the conference season has begun. The major political parties of the bosses take off to sea-side towns, followed by hordes of media commentators and camera crews, to debate all the problems of exploiting the masses of workers, and how to keep the ramshackle capitalist economy in one piece. The TUC [Trades Union Congress], never wishes to be left out of these jamborees and junketing events, so they take their part in the scurrying towards the sea, this time to Blackpool. The 1998 year’s theme / slogan being "Organising Fairness".

There is nothing remarkable, nor shocking, about the TUC functioning as part of the political establishment of the ruling class. The TUC hitched its wagon to the employers over a century ago; and Marx condemned them, saying in his report of the Hague Congress of the First International, that "it is an honour not to be called an English trade union leader". Marx and Engels, with succeeding generations of marxists, have condemned this whole bunch as having deserted the working class and having gone over lock, stock and barrel to the employing class.

Over the last few years the media commentators have recorded a number of ’significant’ firsts, such as when the TUC was addressed by a Tory Government minister and by head of the CBI. This year’s first was an address from Eddie George, the Governor of the Bank of England. He was there to rebuff any criticism of the Bank’s anti-inflation strategy, of keeping interest rates up. Trade Union leaders had been critical of all this, for keeping up the value of the pound sterling, endangering the profitability of industry, and so on. Mr George would have none of such talk the struggle against inflation would still be the concern of the Bank of England. Mr George was listened to with much respect; after all the trade union leaders don’t want to criticise establishment figures too much, or it would delay their own personal moves into the lofty reaches of the bosses hierarchy.

Mr George, would not have felt too out of place when attending the TUC, as he had his delegation from the Bank of England gathered around him. Amongst such representatives of the Board of the Bank of England was one of its newly recruited lay Directors Bill Morris, aka, leader of the T&GWU [Transport & General Workers Union]. Bill Morris was elevated to the haughty chambers of the Board of the Bank of England within weeks of convincing the Liverpool Dockers to abandon their protests, accept that they have been dismissed, and that only some would get their jobs back. Over two years of protests and picketing had led nowhere, but Bill Morris, the union chief, had been seen alright at the end of the day.

On the first day, the President of the TUC, John Edmonds, described the Directors of companies who awarded themselves large salary increases and bonuses as "greedy bastards". Edmonds called for the Government to take action on Directors who had pay increases of £50,000 or more per year. This was coupled with a demand for such people to pay more in tax. Spokespersons for the Government distanced themselves from such talk. Former TUC leaders and representatives from the Institute of Directors thought such comments were rather intemperate. Obviously this was all just a bit of hot air, politicking to appear radical, and obviously not to be taken too seriously.

John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister, front man and acceptable face of old labour, refused to get involved in criticism of Directors pay. He was blunt with the TUC: they should stop carping about the economic dangers facing the country, and avoid talk about being hours away from economic melt-down. Prescott went on to set the scene for Eddie George later in the week the fight against inflation had the priority. Factory closures had little to do with the strength of the pound sterling: "Don’t tell me the collapse of the microchip prices from £30 to £1.30 and the troubles in the Japanese and Asian economies have nothing to do with it".

This disagreement between the Labour Government and the TUC reflect a division within the ranks of the bourgeoisie, between industrial and financial capital. The Labour Party, who sought for a long time to prise the industrial bosses away from the Tories, now represents finance capital as New labour.

Government Legislation and Union Membership levels

In the trade union movement, there has been much talk about easing the Tories "anti-union" legislation; but not much action! In reality the Tory laws are anti-strike measures, designed to curb the ability of rank-and-file workers in taking action outside of the control of the union leaders. By and large the bosses have never had much problem with the existing types of unions, an integral part of the system of class exploitation, tied by agreements and deals to the employers. It was the unofficial actions, characterised by determined defiance in the face of both the bosses and unions, which led to the Tory Governments introducing these laws.

During 1965-8 a Royal Commission under Lord Donovan studied the "industrial problems" of the country, and published the Donovan Report. In this report, it was clear that the trades unions, and shop stewards are a respected and integral part of industrial relations. About unofficial strikes it had this to say:

"440. We now turn to the aspect of strikes which seems to be more serious than the occasional official strike the rapidly growing number of unofficial and unconstitutional strikes in this country (outside coalmining). We have kept constantly in mind that measures aimed at reducing the number of unofficial strikes which merely lead trade unions to make strikes official would not improve industrial relations".

That is why the Tory laws sought to tie the workers down to procedures, ballots, notices of strike action, etc, which would ensure that unions officials could "discipline" unofficial actions. There had been a time when workers would just walk out of their place of work, hold a meeting, vote to stay out, and get away before the union offices knew what was happening. The Tory laws have vastly increased the union bureaucracies ability to head off such situations.

The Government now has plans for a new "Fairness at Work" procedure, which would give unions the automatic right to represent the workforce if 40% of the employees vote for union recognition. Bill Morris, General Secretary of the T&GWU (and Director of the Bank of England) was not at all happy about this new proposed "White Paper". The need to get 40% of employees to vote for union membership was too high, with the provision that firms with 20 or less employees would be excluded was unfair, said Morris. Others thought that the Government’s plans were rather pathetic. Arthur Scargill wanted to see all the Tory laws repealed, and won some sympathy, but few votes. It is obvious that the TUC equally does not want to see the emergence of unofficial movements as a consequence of the ’easing’ of the "Anti-union laws".

The delegates were informed that Peter Mandelson [Mandelson was to get his own personal comeuppance a short time later], Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had let it be known that union rights which may come about through European legislation, would be resisted. "Back door" means of winning rights would not be tolerated. Obviously every effort would be made to keep the workers in line.

The issue of a poor wage rate for the young was also raised. Appalling standards of pay were reported. The solution: the recruitment of Billy Bragg the singer to go on a national tour to "heighten awareness of the issue"! Any notion of mass recruitment, organisation and struggles to raise the standards of pay of the young just did not bear thinking about! Even under the proposed national minimum wage, those 18 to 21 years of age will be paid substantially less than older workers.

A further decline of union membership was recorded. The total union membership last year was 6.8 million, as against 6.9 million for the previous year, showing a decline to 30% from 31% of the workforce. A recruitment drive is being prepared by an "organising academy" to decide how to recruit more "professional" people to the unions.

The TUC readily recognises that there are millions of workers who are not members who could easily join, and a figure of 3 million was mentioned. There are also large numbers of workers on short-term contracts, who are often not in places of employment long enough to be able to join, and who probably think that joining a union may decrease their chances of staying on. The real question remained unasked why should more workers join when the unions are often (rightly) seen as in the pockets of the bosses. Those who do join are often there for the fringe benefits, and maybe a bit of protection for being unjustly victimised (which they could probably get for free elsewhere).

The Question of a National Minimum Wage

Later on the TUC went on to discuss the national Minimum wage, which is due to be implemented next year. At one stage £4 per hour was proposed, but now the Government, after consulting "industry", is talking about £3.60 per hour.

Leaders of the T&GWU and UNISON (public service union) rushed forward to say that such a figure would not be enough for people to live on. The UNISON leader Rodney Bickerstaffe even went on to challenge the Prime Minister and his wife to live on such an income for a while. It was clear that there was plenty of indignation in the hall about low wages, but there was no question about class struggle breaking out to ensure that wages were increased. The dreaded unofficial actions must not be allowed to take place! The workers must be kept in line!

The spokesperson for the Institute of Directors was promptly interviewed by the media. She stated that the TUC had in the past been supportive of the needs of industry by calling for Government intervention, but now pursuing a line that would be detrimental to industry (i.e., profitability).

But it isn’t a minimum wage that will relieve the problems that face the workers: the bosses will still find backdoor ways of keeping down wages, and increasing the rate of exploitation to compensate. For instance, they can employ younger workers, go for more short term contracts, and use job creation schemes, where the Government pays the benefit levels, and the employer then "tops it up" to the level of the "minimum wage".

At the same time as the issue of the minimum wage was being debated, reports were being published about the crisis in the health service. Wages are so low that hospitals are not able to recruit sufficiently qualified staff. There are crises within the education sector, threats to close down "failing" schools, and sack ’bad’ teachers. The reports detailed a long list of problems facing sector after sector, reflecting in reality a crisis ridden society, affected by a crisis ridden economy, just part of a crisis ridden world.

To answer the ever so mild criticisms made against the Government, Peter Mandelson, its [former] Spin Doctor-General, was there to give the TUC a warning that it must come even further into line. Modernisation was the key theme of his speech. The TUC was told that if it wanted to influence the Government it would have to embrace all aspects of its policies. Flexibility and adaptability was needed! They must lead in looking at what the bosses need to implement, rather than following behind and picking up the pieces. "Congress, the choice is yours. Opposition or legitimate influence".

All the trade union leaders interviewed were impressed and not unsympathetic. After all, they know which side their bread is buttered. It is easy to talk, make a few speeches which sound is if they care about the fate of the workers, but in the end they know that cushy jobs on Government bodies beckon, and for those with the most distinguished service to the ruling class, knighthoods and a place in the House of Lords.

The events at Blackpool have not been a surprise, being par for the course. The TUC continues to be a bastion of the ruling class: it was more than a hundred years ago, and it is now-thus it was, thus it shall be. The bitter hatred of Marx and Engels, and even earlier socialists, to that special type of rogue, the bourgeoisified trade union leader, is once again shows to be justified.

Whatever will arise to displace this band of rogues, one thing is clear, it will not appear in any shape or form like the existing TUC or its affiliated trade unions. That is one reason why we do not call for its "reform", even if that were possible. The existing unions are in reality merely a mirror image of the way the bosses organise, with its divisions by industry, trade, etc.

What is needed is an alternative that reflects the organising needs of the masses of workers, both where they work and where they live, uniting the young and old with those in work, drawing in the displaced, the unemployed, the homeless, and so on. It is a different approach, reflecting different class needs, and class aspirations. Such class needs are a million light years removed from what was going on at the TUC in Blackpool. Those class needs are truly human, and can only be achieved by communism; a society yet to be born.

Australia: Wharfies Still Under Attack

In Australia the dockers are affectionately referred to as wharfies the bosses have much more derogatory terms for them! The concerted attacks of last year, the attempt to remove an entire work-force, had failed to dampen the fighting spirit of this section of the Australian workers.

The bosses offensive against the wharfies has been largely coordinated and organised directly by the Australian Government, determined to put into effect "waterfront reforms". These reforms, the concerted assault on dockworkers conditions of employment and rates of pay, were not some idle whim of a particular political party, but a long-term strategy to cut the costs of dockside operations. The Australian docks are in the process of going over fully to containerisation, where the majority of the work can be done away from the docks themselves. For the ruling class such economies must be at the expense of the working class, but never from the sacred profit levels.

The reorganisations had followed what had already taken place in Britain many years before. The old "pooled labour system" under which workers were hired for the day, as needed, seems reminiscent of the old British Dock Labour Scheme. The union was then called the Waterside Workers Federation, the predecessor of the MUA. This daily hire system is a double-edged weapon it places the workers under great uncertainty, but allows tremendous possibilities of developing demands for additional payments, bonuses, otherise the ship(s) concerned get delayed. Like the much vaunted "decasualisation" in Britain, the dockers in Australia were taken on by separated stevedoring companies. But one reform and reorganisation is never enough for the bosses, and they demand more and more.

The Canberra Government has adopted the strategy from New Zealand of backing moves of dock companies in replacing the existing organised workers with a more pliant workforce. In New Zealand the then existing dockers trade union was broken in the early 1990s. Similar union busting took place in Mexico, this time at gun point, in 1991.

The new workers (organised strike-breakers) would be hired on individual contracts, rather than having any form of "collective bargaining" with unions. The replacement of existing workers, if done in an orderly fashion through redundancies (and the famous ’natural wastage’), would be paid for through massive Government funds put to one side for sorting out the dockers.

To reinforce this strategy on the docks, the employers were demanding new and tougher laws to be used against strikers. The new Workplace Relations Act, banning secondary boycotts, with the seizure of union funds through fines, came into operation on January 1st 1997, building upon previous anti-strike restrictions.

The first attempt at implementing this strategy took place at the port of Cairns, in the North East of Australia. This was easily defeated by some bureaucratic manoeuvring of the two unions involved in port operations, the Maritime Union of Australia [MUA], and the Seafarers’ and Dockers’ sections of the International Transport Federation [ITF]. Their main effort was to advise the owner and managers of one of the ships which would be loaded at Cairns by the replacement workforce, that they would become an "innocent party" in the conflict between the unions and the Government. The displaced workers picketed the terminal gates, the ship concerned was held at anchor outside the port, and finally a deal was done and the unionised stevedoring company was rehired, and everything was back to where it was before.

A Government Organised Strategy

This confrontation with the wharfies is one directed by the Australian Government, especially that of the present Conservative administration of John Howard. In any case it is merely the same attacks of the previous Labour Governments of Paul Keating and Bob Hawke. Their Conservative election promise was for confronting the dockers, declaring that they would break the power of the MUA, as it was supposedly standing in the way of economic prosperity. Lower wages paid to dockworkers would boost profits, increase exports (especially agricultural products) and there would be general prosperity for all if of course there isn’t a trade recession, stock market collapse, or dramatic fall in the value of currencies, which have a nasty tendency of bringing economic misery!

But Patrick Stevedores, the second largest hirer of dock labour, had not finished with ideas of attacks on the wharfies. Initially they engaged in negotiations with the National Farmers Federation, who were looking for alternative port arrangements for exporting agricultural products. The NFF had heard that Patrick’s were losing money at its Webb Dock in Melbourne and were considering whether they could use it directly for exporting purposes. But capitalists have essentially competing and conflicting interests, with the NFF also started to look at Brisbane facilities, before deciding on using a unionised company at Adelaide. Patrick went ahead with the first lock-out at Webb Dock, at the end of January 1998, anyway. It was operated by a company associated with the NFF, Producers & Consumers.

For maximum effect the entire Patrick workforce was to be replaced in a military-style operation. Plans were afoot to train a new workforce in port operations, in supposedly secure conditions in Dubai, in the Middle East. It was led by a former army officer and much decorated Vietnam veteran he must have got used to defeats by now! The planned date for this operation was to be April 1st 1998 (known as April Fools Day through much of the English speaking world!). The five-month long Dubai operation leaked out before the first contingent flew out, and finally the operation was put into effect on April 7-8. The entire MUA organised workforce of 1,400, along with 600 casual workers, were dismissed in Sydney, Australia.

While the whole operation was expected at any time, the MUA was busily making all manner of concessions over productivity why go to all the trouble of lock-outs, when the whole matter can be dealt with in discussions with the union, was the official MUA line. The national secretary of the MUA, John Coombs, was busily declaring that the wharfies shouldn’t upset anyone, and that the interests of the workers, employers and the farm exporters could be met by increased productivity.

When employers go "union busting", it is not the union bureaucrats they wish to get rid of. It is the old workforce, usually seen as recalcitrant and uncooperative. "If only we can get rid of the unions" is the employers’ cry, then the workers are bound to see sense and come into line. They will supposedly recognise the economic reality and shoulder the burdens in order to achieve the desired profitability. That at least is the fevered delusion which bosses usually have. Usually peace is made with the union bureaucrats, with the workers remaining dismissed and the subject of abuse in the media, and intimidation on picket lines!

The sacked wharfies were not prepared to give way and conducted robust picketing of the terminals. They won immediate support from workers in neighbouring building sites and factories an injury to one section of workers is an injury to all sectors! A legal ban on picketing was met by a mass demonstration of more than 5,000. The bosses and the MUA were in and out of court is a series of hearings. In any case the real battles were being fought out on the picket lines, and support being given in other ports.

One advantage in the resistance of workers to increased mechanisation of production is that there are more workers available for the fight! When agreements are done to mechanise and computerise, the easier it becomes for the employers to get rid of a smaller workforce. That has certainly been the lessons of the tragic defeats in Britain, from the printers in Fleet Street, the miners and finally the dockers. Collaboration with the bosses leads to a few rewards for Trade Union bureaucrats, and dismissal for large numbers of workers.

The support of fellow workers in Australia was immediate and substantial. Support on the picket lines was swelled by organised delegations of teachers, nurses and health workers. The solidarity on the picket lines was matched with donations of money, and more importantly secondary actions. The solidarity strike action involved not only trucks refusing to cross picket lines, but spread to vitally important oil sites and car production. Such action was spurred on, not dampened, by Court decisions. After all, if the wharfies are defeated, who will be next! The officials of other unions put in an appearance, to pledge support, more to prevent the movement escaping completely out of union control, than any newly found desire for class struggle.

International Support

Solidarity support from outside Australia was quick in coming. Dockers in Fiji and Papua New Guinea pledged action, vitally important money, one million yen from Japan, to support the dockers families, and threats of boycotts from the West coast of the United States, all helped the campaign to resist the lock-out. All this support, rather peculiarly, was confined to the Pacific Rim, but maybe was a reflection of the economic interests of the sections of the bourgeoisie involved.

The boycotting of ships by the dockers, the famous Longshore men of the USA, was timely, effective and looked to be thoroughly efficient. Ships loaded by scab labour in Australia were boycotted, sometimes staying offshore for a couple of weeks (like the vessel the Columbus Canada) before returning to Australia, to be unloaded again. At one stage up to 23 ships (loaded between April 7th and May 4th) had been identifies as having been loaded by strike-breakers, the detailed lists having been sent over to web-sites on the West Coast. The solidarity action was well organised on the West Coast, with sympathetic activists providing picket lines for Longshore men to refuse to cross, if they needed the excuse, while the union officials rather lamely relied upon Health and Safety issues to prevent unloading. Where cargoes had been mixed, that is ships having called into new Zealand for loading as well, the cargoes were identified, the New Zealand goods were unloaded, and the strike-breaking cargoes duly returned to Australia, to be unloaded there.

The boycott on the West Coast of the USA was really biting during the whole of May. This led to the employers, and Government ministers, doing whatever they could to threaten the strikers. They used legal threats as a way of intimidating the strikers. Court actions to deregister the MUA, with claims for damages, was used by Patrick and the state-sponsored Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in an effort to bring the union to its knees. The MUA responded in an equally legalistically threatening way, alleging a conspiracy between Patricks and Government ministers. Further actions against the administrators of the subsidiary stevedoring companies were put into action, obscuring the real issues confronting the workers. Much work here for lawyers and accountants, obviously.

By the beginning of June Patrick was warning the MUA that if it did not commit itself to "workplace reform" then the dock operations would be so mechanised that it would only need "a small number of computer operators". The assistant national secretary of the MUA, Vic Slater, poured scorn on the suggestion that machines could be operated with hardly any workers there to operate them. He would do well to reflect on the experience in Britain, where collaboration in installing the latest technology, to protect the jobs of the workers, in Liverpool, led to the removal of the entire workforce.

While the final stages of the negations were being readied, the boss of Patrick, Chris Corrigan, showed video footage of the dispute to representatives of international container companies. He first showed the secret training camps where the strike-breakers were prepared for their "military-style" operation then scenes of pickets banging and rattling the dock gates. He then announced that he had just been informed that stevedoring was going to be included as an Olympic sport at the Sydney Games. Those whom the Gods wish to destroy.....?

By mid-June the deal was done between Patrick and the MUA. In a Memorandum of Agreement, a working relationship was struck between the bosses and the union, whereby half the jobs were to go, with almost 700 being made redundant. About 200 ancillary jobs, such as security, maintenance, cleaning, etc, would be available. The cosy relationship between the bosses and the union had been re-established. Patrick then denied that its intentions had been to break the union monopoly on the docks. With such cooperation, why go in for conflict. It remains to be seen whether the ordinary wharfies are happy about this continuing courtship!

The end result of the key battle against Patrick was that the workers objected to being removed from the docks, and being replaced by strike-breakers. It that, they clearly won. By a resolute fight, by confronting the issues and refusing to be distracted by arguments over the future of the industry, and nation, they won clear support inside and outside Australia. But this is only a further stage in the ongoing struggle between the port bosses and the wharfies. Vital lessons had been learnt by both sides.

Hullabaloo over the New Year

The loss of half the workforce at Patricks had failed to defeat the fighting spirit of the wharfies, as shown by the events over the New Year. As everyone is aware there is a tendency for workers to celebrate the change of year. The wharfies in Australia are no different. Work normally grinds to a halt, with only the most "essential" services being maintained. Ports and shipping are invariably affected in some way, except those ships which are still at sea.

The wharfies decided unofficially, in practice, that they would not be working on New year’s Eve. They just didn’t turn in for work! The bosses were furious, called them all the names under the sun, and denounced them to the world as lazy, unreliable, etc, etc. Even the MUA, who were cooperating fully in ensuring the efficient working of the docks with a halved workforce, were blamed. Some word was heard that some union representatives were supposedly advising the dockers on how to deal with the situation of not turning in, such as phoning in sick, and so on. Just as if the dockers, with their long tradition of militancy and strike action, need to be cajoled into looking after their own interests.

More Attacks on the way

Another stevedoring company, P&O Ports (a subsidiary of the UK conglomerate), now wants to get in on the act by slashing its 1,362 workforce by 40 per cent. They had set a target of 600 jobs to go, but were only too happy to enter into negotiations for a new enterprise agreement with the MUA. This is actively being pursued from the end of January onwards.

The Australian Federal Government has a substantial ($250 million) waterfront redundancy fund to pay for this reduction, should it be achieved. The cosy relationship between P&O Ports and the MUA led to both being confident that the confrontations of last year’s Patrick stevedoring dispute could be avoided. After all, the union officials who negotiate the redundancies are not themselves faced with having their jobs being terminated. The determined opposition of the workers, especially those who will be "going down the road", will always disrupt this easy going mutual friendship.

The MUA’s supposedly militant central New South Wales branch stated that 40 per cent target as "sadly out of tune", and declined to rule out strike action during the bargaining over redundancies. The P&O Port bosses will not be having sleepless nights about the official reactions from the union branches.

P&O chairman and managing director Richard Hein refused to confirm the redundancy target saying only that many workers wanted to exit the industry. An MUA spokesperson said the union was "supremely disappointed that negotiations we were about to enter with maximum goodwill were opened via the media".


General Motors, the car industry juggernaut, has recently been brought to its knees by an all-out strike which lasted 35 days and closed down 26 of the 29 car plants in the USA.

The Italian daily, La Republica, in its 8/7/98 edition, characterised the dispute as follows: "The figure of 50,000 posts being cut is in fact, mainly a bargaining point. GM proposes to arrive at this figure gradually (we are reminded of FIAT in the 80s, and FORD in America) without resorting to sackings by simply freezing new recruitment, and not replacing workers who have retired. And the union isn’t opposed, in principle, to a policy which has been pursued for many years. But this trial of strength around the cuts has served to highlight the real point, which is productivity. the union has called for a series of investments to be made at the Flint plant (Michigan) in order to improve working conditions; at present, many workers are forced to work, wearing heavy protection clothing, in departments with temperatures over 30 degrees centigrade, without air conditioning. But GM has made these investments (of around $300 million dollars) conditional on the abolition of a clause which allows workers to operate within a kind of ’back-to-front’ piece-work system. At present, the workers are under contract to produce a certain quota of work: anyone who reaches it in, say, 7 hours, can go home and receive a normal eight hours pay or start on overtime".

The strike continued even after the 15 days holiday shut-down. Everyone was led to believe that an agreement would be reached when work resumed, considering that GM had lost $4.5 billion through loss of sales and risked huge losses on the stock exchange. What was at stake though was considerably more than just a union meeting or a few million dollars. In fact, in the context of a significant slowing up of the American economy, what is at stake is the company’s long-term competivity, which is threatened by the Asian-based car manufacturers (Nissan, Toyota, etc), who are becoming ever more predatory as the economic crisis deepens. And as well as GM, it is the destinies of the other big car firms, Ford and Chrysler, which is at stake, for they would be forced to adapt to the competition, and indeed are already talking of closing down some lines of production, whether models of cars or units of production.

The leaders of the Union of Automobile Workers (UAW), just like all bourgeois democrats, says the form of struggle it has adopted is long-term, like the objectives it hopes to achieve; technical innovation, laying off of surplus man-power by utilising the latest economic guarantees in the US like unemployment benefit, speeding up production lines, appreciable reduction in salary by getting rid of, even if only partially, of the clause on piece-work. In fact, having gone this far, they may as well chuck out the demand for a bit of air-conditioning as well!

The strike in the main factories has held up production for thousands of workers who work on the assembly lines, and who process spare parts throughout the United States; at the moment they are receiving a subsidy, but for how much longer?

The various union bosses at GM, Ford and Chrysler are saying that industrial relations with ’The Big Three’ must be revised because of the imminent pay rounds in the car sector next year.

But the reality for the GM workers is even more complex: in fact, as part of a process initiated in the thirties, part of the GM business has been sub-contracted to plants in Mexico. Delphi Automotive Services, with 72,000 workers, is the biggest private business in Mexico. We draw attention to some other facts referred to in the Italian newspaper Manifesto: "In Mexico, the minimum guaranteed daily wage is $3.40. Therefore, when GM comes along and pays $1.36 an hour (the usual rate at Delphi) it appears as a benevolent employer. At the Flint plant, for the same duties, a unionised worker is paid $22 per hour, that is, an average of $984 per week plus overtime, a figure which for us is astronomical".

It is in the context of this contradictory situation that GM and the union are working towards lowering the cost of labour in the USA to Mexican and Asian levels. This confirms that the imperative of American capital, just like all capital, is to reduce salaries and increase productivity, i.e. exploitation. The goal of communists and all workers who have the interests of workers at heart is exactly the opposite: to defend living standards and working conditions, and to fight for wage increases above all for the lowest paid-and proletarian internationalism.


New York, where the contradictions of capital are most stark, and where huge profits are reflected in a corresponding level of oppression of the workers, finds expression in the figure of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. This well-known defender of ruling class interests has distinguished himself by his reactionary campaigns of "law and Order". Needless to say, these include harsh repressions of any protests or strike which threatens the "Social Peace" that most fertile of terrains for proletarian exploitation.

And it is right here, in the middle of Manhattan, that the building workers are getting organised. After two years limbering up with picketing and localised demonstrations against firms which employ non-unionised (and therefore low-paid) workers, they have gone back out on strike, this time with a demonstration right in the centre of "The Big Apple". On June 30, around 40,000 demonstrators (police figures) jammed up a hundred or so streets, making it the biggest strike in New York in the last eight years. From Queens to Brooklyn, from the Bronx to Staten Island, including Manhattan, organisations of building workers have formed the so-called Roy Kay Task Force, with twenty different union groups composing the organising committee. The usual profiteers of union politicking are in the driving seat.

During the strike on June 30th, the demonstrators headed for the offices of the Metropolitan Transport Authority and towards Ninth Avenue, where the building yard of Roy Kay Inc. is situated. There were major clashes with the police, causing the latter to put up barricades to protect themselves. The workers exploded into uncontrollable anger and the final body count was 20 wounded and 40 arrested. The most severe injury being sustained by a worker who was trampled by a police horse.

The newspapers reported that the union had immediately apologised to the Mayor for not having managed to control the strikers, and promised it wouldn’t happen again.

The public contract, worth $32.6 million, for the construction of a centre of operations for the Metropolitan Transport Authority has been won, as tends to happen quite often nowadays, by Roy Kay Inc., the non-unionised builders (i.e. if you’re in a union they don’t employ you). The firms who came second and third in the bidding for the contract were also non-unionised, and had asked for around $2 million less than the bidder in the fourth place.

The recovery in production and the boom in the building industry has been paid for by the workers, with immigrant workers, without work permits, willing to sell their labour at any price, with an increase in work related accidents, and with no safeguards in place to protect health or even life itself.

The unions, as ever firmly entrenched in their position of ’defence of the firm’, have denounced, along with their bosses, non-unionised companies for ’unfair competition’. The struggle by the workers, and their resolute demonstration of strength in defence of their class interests, has thus been exploited in the mafia game of winning contracts. We hope that the American building workers don’t fall into the trap laid by the unions of the so-called ’community of interests between workers and employers’, and that they aim instead to link up with and organise their less fortunate brothers forced into the twilight world of underpaid clandestine work. Only by taking this road, of resisting competition amongst proletarians, will everybody’s conditions be prevented from being reduced to that of the worst treated.

If the New York builders look into their class sub-conscious, they might rediscover the courageous directives which the IWW upheld in the pages of their press organ, Industrial Worker; "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common! There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life. Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organise as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wages system".

Against the slaughter in Kosovo - And the bombing in Serbia

The crisis of Russian capitalism (forced to reveal the fakedness of its alleged socialist regime not so long ago) and the generalised crisis of world capitalism, have resulted in war in Europe.

The Balkan "tinder-box", the so-called causer of wars, is the play-ground for the latest conflict between imperialist interests. Whilst NATO poses as the saviour of the helpless victims in Kosovo to justify the bombing of helpless victims in Serbia, Russia is bankrupt and incapable of intervening to defend historical interests in the area. Germany and the other European powers would like to extend the European Union across the former Yugoslavian states in order to link up with Greece. The U.S.A. has meanwhile used the present conflict to remind both Europe and the Middle East of its military presence and has used it to fully entrench itself in the Albanian ports and surrounding areas.

Comrades, Workers

The working class of the former Yugoslavia has been splintered by the only weapon the local bourgeoisie have ethnic conflict. The so-called "ethnic cleansing" that is taking place is a classic divide-and-rule tactic, and is the latest refinement of previous bourgeois strategies to divide the working class. Any possibility of class consciousness and class organisation has been drowned in blood as the "atrocities" committed by both sides foment nationalistic hatreds, and push worker to kill worker.

The tragic faces of the refugees speak of the misery of the dispossessed of the Earth. And on the back of their misery, and cynically masked by trumpetings about "humanitarian aid", a redivision of the market will take place, and the victors will jostle for contracts to repair the war damage.

Capitalism directs its war as always against the proletariat, in peace calling for sweat and toil, and in war for blood. The role of the bleating pacifists stands revealed as out and out allies of imperialism since their hymns to universal peace deny the class struggle; the one thing capable, as shown by the Revolution in 1917, of smashing the bourgeois regime and putting a stop to their wars.

Colluding in this disarmament of the working class in the British Isles are the official patriotic unions and the Left, orchestrated by the Labour Party and the TUC. During every imperialist undertaking, instead of organising the struggle out of the places of work, the opportunist good-for-nothings-constituting a real fifth column in the working class-call for debates in the Houses of Parliament, for the intervention of the United Nations, or international conferences anything but class struggle and solidarity between workers on both sides of the battle zones.

Comrades, Workers

For a revival of the class struggle, to defend standards of living as much as to oppose the bourgeoisie’s warmongering interests, a reborn class union will be needed which will genuinely express proletarian interests; the other necessity is for the communist party to be strengthened, the one party capable of leading the class towards the final struggle for a real human society.


(Distributed on 1st May at various anti-war demonstrations)

For more than two months now, war has raged in the Balkans.

Despite what the powerful capitalist media has been trying to drum into us, war is not a phenomenon which just inevitably happens from time to time as a result of the latest mad tyrant going off the rails. War under present-day capitalism means plunder and extortion, a fight over domination of markets and sources of raw materials, and a systematic and planned elimination of surplus manpower. These destructions, and massacres of workers have the effect of temporarily rejuvenating decrepit and dying capitalism by starting up a new cycle of accumulation and destruction. Good evidence of this is provided by two world wars and the interminable minor wars since.

The general crisis of capitalism, after having swept over the entire planet bringing enormous destruction of capital and surplus labour power as has long been predicted by internationalist communists is now openly affecting the heart of capitalism and bringing war to Europe.

The main aim of the Pentagon strategists is to keep the Balkan/Danube zone under strict military control, since this area is the main bridgehead for any "projection of power" into several key areas: the middle East (main global oil supplier), central Asia (2nd most important oil supplier) and central Russia; thereby both blocking off competition from European imperialism as it pushes towards the East, and also any push by the weakened, but potentially powerful Russian imperialism, towards the West. The collision of the economic and strategic interests of the imperialist powers, both big and small, has had war as its inevitable outcome. So, all aspects of the present war are imperialist, even taking into account that at the moment the war is taking place in a geographically circumscribed area, and that on one side is ranged the enormous military power of NATO, and on the other the small Serbian state; outpost, nevertheless, of a second imperialist front in the process of formation. On the diplomatic, economic and military chessboards, the role of global gendarme is now exclusively filled by the United States following the collapse of Russian state capitalism. The European Union, with the economic and financial giant Germany at its head, has shown it is still a political dwarf in comparison, deprived as it is of the authority and military strength necessary to speak on equal terms with the transatlantic giant and impose its own conditions on international politics. Nevertheless, the goals of Europe and the United States are the same: imperialist domination and plunder abroad, and violent repression and exploitation of "its own" working class.

The working class therefore has nothing to gain by supporting either side.

On both sides of the battle front, the primary aim of the imperialist wars is the destruction of surplus capital and surplus workers. The more senile imperialism becomes, the more its destructive virulence weighs down on the proletariat. If during the 1st world War, civilian victims were still considerably less than to those who died in combat, during the 2nd World War it was the reverse; a trend which has been confirmed in all the local imperialist wars since

The 2nd World War, which was passed off as a struggle between "good" democracy, and "bad" totalitarian fascism, was a ferocious war conducted by all the bourgeoisies of the world against the proletariat of all countries. The Nazi massacres of the first phase, when the German army was in retreat, were followed by the carpet bombing of the working class cities of Hamburg, Dresden and Berlin. The aim was to get the proletariat to abandon any autonomous attempt at communist revolution and become cannon fodder for the bourgeois anti-fascist resistance; fifth column of the Anglo-American imperialist powers and also of the weaker muscovite imperialism. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were warnings directed not just against Stalinist Russia, but also against the coloured peoples who were at that time embarking on national liberation struggles. Today, the incessant bombing of Yugoslavia, which have barely scratched the Serbian war machine, are being used to terrorise and kill proletarians, just as the repression inflicted on the Albanian population by the Serbian police and army goes well beyond the purpose of hitting the KLF. It all gives a good idea of what the purpose of the 3rd Imperialist War will be, which even the studies of bourgeois military strategists predict will result in 99% civilian casualties against 1% casualties amongst the military.

While all this is being got ready, the world working class remains paralysed; whether through terror induced by the allegedly invincible capitalist war machine, whether by the con-trick of democracy, or through the escape into individualism and into the multiple forms of addiction continually generated by the corrupt civilisation of the bourgeoisie.

The only thing moribund capitalist "civilisation" is able to offer is savage exploitation, poverty and war. The few crumbs that some sectors of the working class in the West still receive are paid for at a very high price, and are destined to vanish, devoured by the monster without a face, without a soul or without feelings; the monster of capitalism.

The proletariat must take advantage of these months of localised war to learn that the capitalist regime is on the brink of an abyss, and that a new global slaughter is being prepared, and that powerful new economic organisations need to be formed that will be capable of opposing the war plans of capital by mobilising the workers and utilising the weapon of an unrestricted all-out general strike.

Young proletarians, the life force of the working class need to link up with their revolutionary organisation, the international Communist Party, the one party capable of opposing the imperialist war with a social war against the regime of wage labour, of hunger, and of war.

The international communist revolution will be the start of a new epoch for mankind, which will finally be able to emerge from the prehistory of the division into classes, wage-earners, mercantilism: its name will be communism, the impossible, utopian communism.