British Labour movement

Clause4 700Ever since the formation of the Labour Party in 1900, there has been controversy on the left over whether or not to participate in the party. To develop a correct understanding of this question, it is important to look at the experience of the past. Our task is to learn from history in order to avoid unnecessary mistakes. History, after all, is littered with the wreckage of small sectarian groups who attempted to mould the workers’ movement into its preconceived plans and failed.

Different “Marxist” groups have made one mistake after another on this key question. Towards the end of the 1960s, a number of left groups abandoned work in the Labour Party in disgust at the counter-reforms of the then Labour government. They wrote off the party and set about building their own independent revolutionary parties, ignoring everything that had been written on the importance of the mass organisations. The more isolated they were, the more ultra-left they became. Rather than connect with the real movement, they continually sought to tear the advanced workers away from the mass. They saw their prime task as to “expose” the leadership through shrill denunciation. This has been the hallmark of all these different sectarian groups. With such antics they end up playing into the hands and reinforcing the position of the right-wing leaders.

— From Britain: Marxism and the Labour Party – Some important lessons for today

With Marxist Labour councillors in the leadership, a mass movement involving the entire labour movement and working class communities was built up in Liverpool in the 80s, in order to oppose cuts and fight for socialist policies.

50 years ago, women at the Dagenham Ford Factory began a strike that became a turning point in the fight for equality. It was not the first such strike, and it would certainly not be the last. However, by standing up against bosses, union officials, and even other workers, they would send a message that has stood the test of time and inspires still.

27 February marked the centenary of the adoption of the socialist aims of the British Labour Party. At a special Labour conference in February 1918 at Central Hall, Westminster, under the direct impact of the Russian Revolution, the party adopted a new constitution that contained the famous Clause 4.

Workers in Britain have been under attack from the bosses and the Tory government for years. And yet many trade union leaders do not seem capable of fighting back. This is one of the reasons that unions last year experienced the biggest single drop in their membership since records began. Total union membership is now just 6.2 million workers, compared to 13.2 million in 1979.

With Jeremy Corbyn on course to win another landslide victory in the contest for the Labour leadership, the Party Establishment are preparing the ground for a split. Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, looks back at the Labour split of 1931 to analyse the important lessons of Labour's history for today's tumultuous events.

Ted Grant was a well-known figure in the international Marxist movement. He had a significant impact on British politics. When he died all the most important newspapers carried extensive obituaries that recognised this fact. This is a remarkable work that comprehensively covers the development of Ted's life and ideas, starting from his early family background in Johannesburg right up to his death in London in 2006 at the age of 93.

Beginning at one minute to midnight on the 3rd May, the 1926 General Strike shook the ruling class of Britain to its foundations. Lasting for nine days, the strike showed the enormous power and solidarity of the working class. 4 million trade unionists - out of a total of 5.5 million - responded to the TUC’s call to halt work. Despite no real preparation by the TUC leadership, workers organised - through their own initiative - strike committees up and down the country. Nothing moved without the workers’ permission.

The first few weeks of March 2014 will be a time of deep reflection for hundreds of thousands of people across the UK who will recall what they were doing when the 1984/85 coal miners’ strike began.

Friday 3rd January saw the release of previously secret Cabinet documents from the Tory government relating to the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984 – 85. The BBC news website stated “Newly released cabinet papers from 1984 reveal mineworkers' union leader Arthur Scargill may have been right to claim there was a "secret hit-list" of more than 70 pits marked for closure.”

The following article is written by comrade Bill Landles, a longstanding defender of the ideas of Marxism, whose activity goes right back to the days of the Revolutionary Communist Party during the Second World War, where he played a role in the apprentices’ strikes. We are publishing  a transcript of a speech by Bill on the apprentices' strikes of 1944.

In July 1888, 1,400 female workers walked out on strike at the Bryant and May factory in East London. 125 years later, that struggle still holds a place of honour in the history of the labour movement.

Saturday 31 March, 1990, one day before the introduction of the poll tax in England and Wales, and one year after its introduction in Scotland, 250,000 people took to the streets to demonstrate in London and Glasgow organised by the All Britain Anti Poll Tax Federation (in which the Militant Tendency was playing a leading role).This was just the culminating act of a mass campaign organising millions of people's non-payment and active resistance against the implementation of the tax. This massive movement of civil disobedience eventually succeeded in bringing down the hated Thatcher government, despite being lamentably opposed by the TUC and Labour Party leaders. We reproduce here the

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Ken Capstick, former Vice-President, Yorkshire National Union of Miners and Rob Sewell, author of 'In the Cause of Labour' and editor of Socialist Appeal talk about the struggles that lead up to 1972 and up to the miners strike of 1984/5. The speeches were given at the ULU Marxist Summer School which was recently organized in in London.

Forty years ago, in 1972, Britain faced a sharp and qualative change and teetered on the verge of a general strike for the first time in nearly 50 years. A wave of factory occupations and sit-ins had swept the country.  More than 23 million days were lost in strike action, excluding 4 million lost through political strikes. Only once, in the revolutionary year of 1919, was the number of days lost greater. The Tories, in a pamphlet misnamed In Defence of Peace, were already digesting the writings of Brigadier Kitson, who urged the army to be prepared for civil unrest. The spectre of revolution was once again beginning to haunt Britain.

The Great Unrest is the term used by historians to describe the period  a 100 years ago when Britain saw many industrial conflicts such as the Cambrian Combine Strike, the Tonypandy Riots and many other struggles.  In Wales there was also a major dispute in the Cynon Valley and riots in Llanelli during the Railwaymen's strike. Strikes occurred in Clydeside, London, Liverpool, Hull and many other towns and cities throughout the land.   Important ideas were developed and discussed during this period which had a profound affect on the Labour and trade union movement. Darrall Cozens, a member of the UCU and Coventry NW Labour Party, considers what we need to learn from

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The 4th October marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, a momentous event in which the working people of London united to deliver a decisive blow against the menace British fascism. In this article we commemorate the brave stand of those workers who fought the fascists while seeking to expose the real nature of fascism and drawing lessons for today's struggles against the English Defence League (EDL) and the British National Party (BNP).

Eighty years ago in 1931, Labour right-wingers joined with the Tories to form a National Government. This act had but one purpose. Like the Coalition government of today, its aim was to carry through ruthless cuts to save the profits of capitalism. Rob Sewell looks back at the great betrayal.

The Walton by-election, in Liverpool, took place in July 1991, twenty years ago. It arose after the sudden death of Eric Heffer, the left-wing Labour MP for Walton. At the time it created quite a political stir. It was also a key factor in the demise of the Militant, which had boasted it could win the seat, but failed miserably. The whole episode played into the hands of Labour’s right wing that used it to expel Militant from the Labour Party. To understand what happened we need to take a brief look at the background.

Seventy years ago this week the “phoney war” well and truly ended and the mass bombing of London and other keys cities by the Nazi Luftwaffe began. The Blitz, as it was to become known, cost the lives of thousands of workers as the nightly bombing raids from Germany laid waste to both houses and industry.

More than a century after the formation of the Labour Party, the party still remains rooted in the organised working class. Despite everything, the results of the recent general election confirm the ingrained support for Labour throughout the working class areas of Britain.

The news is full of the plans of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to hammer the public sector in the interests of the ruling class. But “the best laid schemes of mice and men, go often askew,” as Robbie Burns wrote. This is precisely what happened to Ted Heath's government.

The present Tory-Liberal coalition is preparing to launch a major attack on British workers. History shows that the British workers have always responded to such attacks with militant class struggle. One such example was the miners' strike of 1972, a rock solid strike that shook the Tory government and prepared its eventual downfall two years later in 1974.

Ian Isaac’s new book, published on the 25th anniversary of the end of the 1984/85 miner’s strike, is essentially an autobiographical account of the St John’s Lodge of the National Union of Mineworkers during the late 1970s and ‘80s. Ian was the youngest Lodge Secretary in the NUM at the time, a South Wales Executive member and a supporter of the Militant newspaper and Labour Party Young Socialists. The book will be fascinating for any young socialists or trades unionists who are interested in finding out the truth of what happened during that great strike.

The prospect of a new Tory government coming to power after the next election should be more than enough to concentrate the minds of active workers in the Labour and Trade Union Movement. But what sort of Tory government will it be? Mark Twain made the point that although history never repeats itself, it often rhymes.

Yesterday was Bill Landles’ 85th birthday. He is an active supporter of the Socialist Appeal in Britain and the IMT. His activity goes right back to the days of the RCP during the Second World War, where he played a role in the apprentices’ strikes. He is a living link to those early pioneering days of our movement.

1922 was a watershed in the struggle for a mass Marxist Party in Britain. Under the direction of the Leninist Comintern, the young militants of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) grappled with the task of transforming an essentially propagandist group into the foundations of a genuine mass Bolshevik organisation.

"Where there is discord may we bring harmony..." said Margaret Thatcher  30 years ago this May when she was elected as British Prime Minister in 1979. Some politicians are remembered for their achievements, in Aneurin Bevan's case the founding of the NHS; others like Tony Blair will be remembered as warmongers and traitors to the ideals of the Labour movement. Meanwhile John Major will be remembered, if at all, for his ineffectual personality and his blandness. But very few will have been hated by working people with such intensity as Margaret Thatcher.

Today, almost 25 years since the miners’ strike began, the industry has been decimated, with only a few thousand jobs left. The proud traditions remain and many miners have taken their fighting traditions into the wider labour movement but many of the pit villages are crumbling. The main lesson of the Ridley Plan for the labour movement and the politically active layers of the youth is that a Tory government would be forced to move against the working class, to deal with the crisis that the capitalist system clearly faces.

Winston Churchill is one of the most famous figures in British history and the official approach is that it would be unpatriotic not to admire him. The purpose of this article is to draw aside the veils of myth and legend which establishment historians and fawning admirers have spun around him and look at the real Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. The facts reveal a different man altogether.

Back in 1976 the Lucas Aerospace Company in Britain was preparing to sack 20% of its 18,000-strong workforce. The Shop Stewards approached their members for technically viable means of using the existing equipment and human expertise to make socially useful products instead of weapons. The result was a 6-volume document which revealed that workers have the know-how to run industry. What was lacking was the capital. For that you need to expropriate the capitalists.

The British National Health Service was set up sixty years ago, officially on July 5th 1948. It was the result of years of struggle on the part of the working class for a free universal health service. At its height it was as close as you could get to a communist principle under capitalism. Over the years the capitalists have been working hard to drag us back to the dark days when the poor could not afford decent healthcare.

At the University of East Anglia recently Rob Sewell of the Socialist Appeal gave a talk on the Miners strike in Britain 1984-5. The strike was a culmination of the inevitable build up of tension between the ruling and working class. In the post-war period the decline of British imperialism had occured. The Tories of the 1980s were a rabid reaction to that phenomenon, determined to destroy the organised labour movement by taking on its most militant section, the National Union of Miners.

It is 100 years since the Labour Party first emerged as a force in parliament, and 100 since the Trades Dispute Acts granted British workers some basic rights against prosecution by employers in case of strike action. Today workers have fewer rights than they did then. Since 1906 the British ruling class have attempted to break the link between Labour and the unions, but have systematically failed.

Eighty years ago an earthquake shook the very foundations of British capitalism. In the greatest display of militant power in its history, the British working class moved into action in the General Strike of 1926. For 9 days, from May 3, not a wheel turned nor a light shone without the permission of the working class. In such a moment, with such power, surely it ought to have been possible to have transformed society? How can such a position have ended in defeat? (by Phil Mitchinson, originally published in May 2001)

Twenty years ago this month, the heroic twelve-month long struggle of the British miners to defend their jobs and their communities came to an end. The BBC drama Faith broadcast on February 28 on these events was like a breath of fresh air, an antidote to that earlier filth masquerading as ‘impartial documentaries’. For the first time in the national media the role of the state – its specially created national police force, its media, its secret services, and all the weapons employed by the ruling class to fight the miners – was vividly exposed.

We republish this article on the referundum on the EEC Common Market, written by Ted Grant in 1979. The article explains that the struggle against a capitalist common market needs to be linked to the struggle of changing society on socialist lines, as the struggle against the European Constitution today must also be.

The key role played by women in the 1984-1985 miners' strike has been an inspiration to working class women everywhere. Many other issues affecting women have yet to be fought. Cuts in education, housing, transport and health just to name a few. Originally published in 1986.

This article was written to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the commencement of the 1984/5 miners' strike in the United Kingdom. This ferocious confrontation between the organised working class (led by the National Union of Mineworkers) and Margaret Thatcher's Conservative Government was a momentous chapter in the history of the class struggle in Britain. The lessons of the miners' strike – and its defeat – are of great significance to the future of the workers' movement, and deserve thorough study.

An interview with Nigel Pearce, a member of the National Executive of the National Union of Mineworkers and working miner. He explains how the strike developed and the turning point that it represented for labour relations in Britain. In spite of the defeat he says, "We were right to fight, we had a duty to fight, and I'm proud to have fought, and I'm proud of all those I fought alongside."

On Saturday 24 January, the British TV channel, Channel Four, broadcast a documentary about the miners’ strike. Anyone who tuned in looking for an objective account of the strike was doomed to be disappointed. The purpose of this documentary was not to clarify what happened but to blacken the memory of the striking miners and mislead the present generation by a combination of lies, falsifications and trivialisation. Against all the lies, distortion and venom, the Marxists will defend the memory of this epic struggle and pass on the great lessons to the new generation that is destined to carry on the fight to a victorious conclusion.

This book is aimed especially at class-conscious workers who are seeking to escape from the ills of the capitalist system, that has embroiled the world in a quagmire of wars, poverty and suffering. This history of trade unions is particularly relevant at the present time. The book contains vital lessons and is essential reading for today's worker militants.

John Maclean was undoubtedly a class fighter and Marxist, but he made one important mistake, and that was to succumb to the idea that a socialist revolution would be possible in Scotland, separate from the rest of Britain. Ted Grant briefly comments on why this was.

This month marks the 80th anniversary of the death of John Maclean. Maclean was an outstanding figure. He was Britain's most famous Marxist propagandist and revolutionary organiser. At great personal cost, he hailed the Bolshevik Revolution and fought hard to promote the world socialist revolution. The following article gives a glimpse of his life, commitment and contribution to the workers' movement.

Barbara Humphries looks at the conflicting tendencies within the British Labour Party on the question of war. It is clear that the rank and file members of the party have always tended towards opposition to war, while the leadership has swung the other way. At times, however, the opposition has been so strong that it has limited the ability of the Labour leadership to put all its weight behind war efforts such as the US war on Vietnam.