Barbara Humphries continues her series on the history of the Labour Party. 1945 marked a watershed for Labour and for British society. The Labour Party won an historic victory, with a 146-seat majority over all other parties. It was won on the most radical election manifesto, before or since. This article was originally published in Socialist Appeal, issue 50 April 1997.

Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith is "murally dyslexic," according to one of his own backbench MPs Anthony Steen, "he can't read the writing on the wall!" The "nasty party" as their own chairman Theresa May MP dubbed the Tories, stumbles from one crisis to the next. The issue of adoption for unmarried and gay couples is an important one, but is not the root cause of the latest debacle. The press make much of Duncan Smith's history as a plotter and a backstabber in the days of John Major's leadership. He voted against the 'party line' more than 40 times over Europe. True as this undoubtedly is, the Tory leader's paranoia, seeing plots around every corner, is not the source of their crisis either. The Tory Party is the most successful bourgeois party in history, its longest period in the wilderness came between 1846 and 1866. Otherwise from the 1830s to the present day, the Tories have never been out of office for more than 11 years. Today they are not only out of office but hopelessly split, reflecting the divisions in the capitalist class about the way forward for their system.

The magnificent one million-strong strike of local authority workers on July 17 has forced important concessions out of the government. Anyone who still doubted the power of militant industrial action has been answered. Before the strike there was no more money available, no matter what, for chronically underpaid council employees. Furthermore Blair insisted that he would not be involved, this was "a matter for the employers not the government." However, the militant action of the workers and their determined mood has forced an immediate U-turn. Blair personally intervened to persuade the employers to propose a new, improved offer. The threat of a further one-day strike on August 14, and the possibility of all-out action in September changed everything. The Blair government which had made clear its intention to confront the unions head on, especially over the involvement of the private sector in the running of public services, suddenly developed cold feet. The first lesson of this dispute - which will not be lost either on the workers involved, or on postal workers, firefighters and London Underground workers preparing to take strike action is: Militancy Pays! Militant action gets results, just one 24-hour strike has got Blair on the run, and this is just the beginning. We explained this process in advance.

On Tuesday July 16, UK Coal, the biggest deep mine coal company in the UK, announced the closure of the Selby coalfield. It was a shock in some respects, but in others a lot of us had expected it. We believe that UK Coal do not want the bother of mining the Selby coalfield - that is the problem. They have starved long-term investment to the coalfield since privatisation, they have raped the industry over the last ten years, and now they want to get out - and they are asking the government for the money to get out.

What a decisive answer to all the cynics who had written off the labour movement in Britain. In scenes reminiscent of the late 1970s, scenes we were told would never be repeated in Blair's New Britain, more than a million local authority workers took strike action yesterday, the first national public sector stoppage in 20 years. The action by members of UNISON, the T&GWU and the GMB was described in the London Evening Standard as "the biggest strike in Britain since the 1926 General Strike". All over England, Wales and Northern Ireland schools, museums and leisure centres were closed, rubbish went uncollected, architects demonstrated alongside caretakers and dinner ladies and the power of public sector workers was clear for all to see. This is what the size and unity of UNISON is supposed to be used for, not car insurance schemes, but blue and white collar workers united in action. Many of these workers are taking strike action for the first time in their lives, and they gain confidence and begin to draw conclusions like Natasha Izatt, a 27 year old librarian from Hove who earns just £4.80 an hour. "Today's action is fantastic," she is quoted as saying in the Guardian, "I'm happy to be able to do something rather than just whinge." These comments could be repeated by women struggling by on appallingly low wages all over the country. It is no accident that this was the biggest ever strike by women workers.