[Book] In the Cause of Labour - A History of British Trade Unionism

Business (Unionism) as usual

The victory of Churchill in the 1951 general election was to mark the beginning of thirteen years of uninterrupted Tory rule. One of the main reasons for this remarkable success was the world economic upswing that was underway, which enormously benefited British capitalism, masked its deficiencies, as well as serving to reinforce illusions in the capitalist system itself. Within the organised Labour movement, these favourable economic conditions served, in turn, to bolster the position of the right-wing leaders of the trade unions and the Labour Party.

The nightmare of the Thirties had disappeared. The eradication of mass unemployment and rising prosperity stood in marked contrast to the wretched inter-war period. Again, the economic upswing served to heal the deep wounds of past defeats, and strengthen the organisations of the working class in terms of numbers and cohesion. These new conditions appeared to confirm the idea that capitalism had really changed, as the Labour leaders argued, and that the ideas of Marxism and class struggle seemed to be a thing of the past. According to them, simply through the policies of John Maynard Keynes, the new economic guru, and government intervention, the capitalist economy could be fine-tuned to eradicate booms and slumps and the vagaries of the market economy. (Interestingly, Gordon Brown again made similar assertions of eliminating “boom and bust” some fifty years later). In place of “old-fashioned” class struggle, the leaders of parties and trade unions preached conciliation and class harmony. According to them, “everything would work out for the best, in the best of all capitalist worlds”.

The General Council of the TUC, completely under the domination of the Neanderthal right wing, and ever eager to promote its own importance, issued a statement concerning its relations with the new Conservative government:

“Since the Conservative administrations of pre-war days, the range of consultation between Ministers and both sides of industry has considerably increased, and the machinery of joint consultation has enormously improved. We expect of this government that they will maintain to the full this practice of consultation.”

Unlike in the 1930s, this collaborationist role of the trade union tops suited the Tories and the employers. With the lowering of international trade barriers, there was an unprecedented expansion of world trade, which in turn, gave a further impetus to global production. Under these circumstances, the British capitalists needed to urgently expand production, not only to reach new markets, but also to hold on to their share of world trade. Given the increased strength of organised labour, it was now very much in the interests of the ruling class to pursue a policy of collaboration with the union leaders. In turn, they would lean heavily upon the trade union bureaucracy to police its members, keep wages stable and, above all, boost productivity and profits. Despite some minor reservations, it was a role that the TUC was wholeheartedly pleased to embrace.

As explained, throughout the 1950s the British trade unions as well as the Labour Party were firmly in the grip of the right wing. The triumvirate of Arthur Deakin (TGWU), Tom Williamson (GMWU) and Will Lawther (NUM), ruled the movement in the most authoritarian manner, using their bloc vote to the maximum effect both in the TUC and the Labour Party. Williamson was so close to the capitalist Establishment that he was one of the participants at the first meeting of the conspiratorial Bilderberg Group in 1954, an elite gathering of the world’s rich and powerful. In the words of Aneurin Bevan:

“… the policies of the Party are, in fact, determined by an irresponsible group of trade union bureaucrats. You should appreciate the fact that the bloc vote operates inside the Executive as well as at the Conference. We have actually reached the position where it would be true to say that the leaders of the Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Municipal and General Workers’ Union decide the policy of the Labour Party. The preponderance of votes they enjoy is such that no trade union representative can be elected to the executive without their consent. This power they have exercised ruthlessly and cynically… This domination must be broken if democracy inside the party is to have the chance to breathe.”[1]

The economic boom, with its increased profits for the capitalists, allowed them to grant small wage rises without much trouble, providing they were linked to increases in productivity. Given the shortage of skilled labour, employers preferred to negotiate agreements and avoid strikes, which only served to disrupt production. In comparison to the immediate post-war period, the decade of the Fifties can be considered on the whole as one of relative social peace between the classes. The unofficial strike by oil tanker drivers in London in October 1953, where troops were used to break the strike, was the exception rather than the rule.

The TGWU, the biggest union in Britain, was the standard bearer of right-wing reaction within the Labour movement. Deakin was the archetypal trade union “boss”, who regarded internal union democracy as a hindrance, and shop stewards as troublemakers, needing to be continually policed and kept in check. This was illustrated by an agreement with the Ford Motor Company in the early 1950s. “Because of their [the Deakin leadership] deep hostility towards left-wing shop stewards, they had designed an agreement which put all power at the centre and virtually ruled out membership participation”, stated Jack Jones, a full-time official at the time.

“A limited number of shop stewards were allowed, but their activities were tightly controlled and shop floor bargaining was virtually outlawed. The management could exercise a veto on the nomination of shop stewards and altogether trade union activity was effectively circumscribed.”[2]

As long as living standards rose, the Neanderthal right wing could use these gangster methods to police the workers’ movement without much difficulty. That did not mean there was no discontent or opposition – far from it – but such feelings were largely stultified by the union apparatus. The nearest parallel to this kind of internal regime was the American AFL-CIO, whose leadership typified the most degenerate form of business unionism, and was heavily influenced by organised crime.

The Tories attempted to persuade the trade union leaders to agree to some form of permanent arbitration machinery for the settlement of disputes. But the TUC leaders opposed this suggestion, preferring to treat industrial relations “in their own way”. By the middle of the 1950s, however, strike figures took a leap upwards, with fifty per cent more days lost than in any other year since the war. One of the reasons for this was the continuous simmering discontent on the docks.

The Blue Union

Within the Labour movement, dockers were considered a special breed. The tough conditions in which they worked created a natural solidarity and class-consciousness. The dockers had a militant tradition that constantly came into conflict with the national bureaucracy of the TGWU. Due to the heavy hand of the Deakin leadership unofficial action became widespread on the docks. Between 1945 and 1955, there were thirty-seven unofficial strikes in the industry. As neither employers nor union bureaucrats permitted a shop steward system within the docks, an unofficial Port Workers’ Committee was set up in 1945 that led a whole series of unofficial strikes. During the witch-hunt against the Communist Party, 77 dockworkers had been disciplined and three expelled from the union. More often than not, unofficial strikes were attacked by Deakin as “communist inspired” events. Under these circumstances, the policing role of the full-time officials was bitterly detested by the rank and file. This was especially the case when these officials colluded with the employers on the Dock Labour Boards.

The TGWU dominated the docks with its 83,000 members. The National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers Union (NASD), known as the “Blue Union” by the colour of its membership card, had some 7,000 stevedores and dockers confined to the London docks. In comparison with the TGWU, the NASD clearly had a more democratic and militant structure and tradition – which, under the circumstances, was not too difficult. Given the growing dissatisfaction amongst TGWU members with Deakin, unofficial strikes in Hull in August 1954 resulted in members voting to breakaway from the T&G and join the “Blue Union” instead. This breakaway movement quickly spread to Birkenhead, Liverpool, and Manchester. By the end of the year an estimated 10,000 dockers had left the T&G for the “Blue”.

As expected, the T&G bureaucracy came down on the breakaway like a ton of bricks. It used the authority of the TUC and the Bridlington Agreement, which prohibited the poaching of members from affiliated unions, to attack the NASD. In 1955, the “Blue” was compelled to wage a strike on Merseyside to prevent members losing their jobs. Following this strike, which was successful, the NASD demanded its recognition by the northern ports employers. The employers, however, refused even to negotiate over the issue, and a strike for NASD recognition was subsequently defeated. The “Blue Union” was later suspended and eventually expelled from the TUC in 1959 for refusing to hand back former T&G members.

As with all similar attempts to split the unions, this experience proved disastrous. They failed to learn the lesson from an earlier attempt involving the T&G in 1938, when busworkers set up the National Passenger Workers’ Union, which later collapsed. Of course, the responsibility for these splits lies with the heavy-handed bureaucracy of the unions and their police methods, and this split in the T&G was no different. However, in such cases, the advice of the most class-conscious activists must not be to promote splits, but to encourage members to stay and fight within their existing unions, despite the machinations of the officials.

Typically, the dockers were egged on by various ultra-left groups (as well as Tribune) to leave the T&G. For them such a bureaucratic union “could never be reformed”. These flag-waving groups learned nothing and forgot everything. The argument that the T&G could not be changed did enormous damage in misdirecting the genuine frustrations of rank-and-file members. While appreciating the bitterness and anger over the antics of their so-called leaders, the split nevertheless simply served to strengthen the right-wing grip within the T&G, particularly its Docks’ Section. Even more criminal, the dispute served to introduce non-unionism onto the docks.

In the end, to preserve their position in the TUC, the NASD leaders agreed to exclude their newly-won northern members. Yet the men refused to return to the T&G and eventually took legal action to rescind their expulsions. Despite being successful in the courts, they still were not recognised by the northern employers. The NASD, outside of the TUC, moved to the right. It eventually ended up accepting in its entirety the 1965 Devlin Report (set up by the Wilson government), as it offered the NASD limited union recognition. On the other hand, the T&G, which opposed Devlin because of its large-scale redundancies and lack of security, eventually moved to the left. In the end, those activists who remained behind in the T&G to continue the fight for democratic change won through. Despite all the obstacles and difficulties, they succeeded in changing the union.

The damage, however, had been done. The main beneficiaries of the split, of course, were the employers, with some 30 per cent of dockworkers in Liverpool and Hull ending up as non-union. In 1984, the “Blue Union” amalgamated with the TGWU, finally putting an end to the disunity that had arisen from the breakaway.

The 1950s witnessed a sharp struggle within the Labour Party between left and right over German rearmament and unilateral disarmament. The party leadership, dominated by the triumvirate of Deakin, Williamson and Lawther, had no time for internal “debate” and “democracy” and strove to drive the left-wing Bevanites out of the Party. At the 1952 Party Conference, Deakin, as the “fraternal” delegate from the TUC, demanded the proscription of the Bevanites. When barracked by Constituency Party delegates, he replied arrogantly: “You know you would listen if you wanted to get money from the trade unions.” When Deakin died in 1955, his replacement Jock Tiffin only lasted six months before his untimely death. Eventually Frank Cousins became TGWU general secretary, and the right-wing monolith began to falter.

“It was a sign of the times. Rank-and-file members wanted changes. The union’s policies did not switch from right to left overnight with his election. Many of the officers and branches remained faithful to the traditional right-wing policies of the union. But looking back at that period”, recalls Jack Jones, “the change at the top of the TGWU was a watershed in the history of the Labour movement.”[3]

By 1959, the TGWU had changed its policy to support unilateral nuclear disarmament, which was carried by the Labour Conference a year later. The earth began to move, as the right-wing grip began to falter.

With Labour’s defeat in the general election of 1955 (the Tory majority had risen to 100 seats), Attlee retired and Hugh Gaitskell was elected by the PLP as party leader. Gaitskell, a middle-class upstart, represented the high point of right-wing ascendancy, in much the same way as Blair did some forty years later. Under his leadership, moves were now undertaken to distance the Party from “old style” nationalisation and “broaden” its appeal to the newly affluent middle classes. James Griffiths stated that the Labour Party should “go back to the classroom.” Right-wing theoreticians, like Anthony Crosland, explained that capitalism had fundamentally changed and could now be easily managed. So close were the policies of both Tory and Labour Parties that the resulting consensus became known as “Butskellism” (R.A. Butler was a prominent Tory leader).

But by the mid-Fifties the industrial scene was becoming more unsettled. After the 1955 national ASLEF strike (where the right-dominated NUR continued to work), strike figures began to grow once more. In 1957 strikes broke out in the engineering and shipbuilding industries. The following year saw a six-and-half week strike by London busworkers. The TUC intervened in the bus dispute, not to widen the strike, but to mediate between the workers and employers. According to Ken Fuller,

“a Delegate Conference heard Frank Cousins argue against spreading the strike, even though the Central Bus Committee had voted, by a majority of one, for this to happen. In fact, the chances of solidarity action were looking increasingly remote, given the attitude of the TUC. Local NUR leaders had voted to strike every Monday in support of the bus workers, but their general secretary, Sidney Greene, had instructed them to work; some railwaymen who stood by their original decision were sacked. Nevertheless, the Conference voted to continue the strike. A week later Conference acknowledged defeat and voted to return to work.”[4]

It was a defeat of major proportions for transport workers. Sidney Greene, however, was to receive a knighthood for his services.

The miners, still a powerful section of the working class, undertook the brunt of industrial action in these years. Between 1947 and 1957 disputes in the coal industry constituted 70.5 per cent of all industrial disputes, and accounted for 21.9 per cent of the total number of strike days lost. These were all unofficial strikes, many over local piece-rates. However, by the late Fifties, the motor industry was increasingly becoming the cockpit of industrial strife, with the loss of days running at seven or eight times the national average. Between 1960 and 1964 over 480,000 working days were lost each year in the car industry – by this time, far higher than in the coal industry. This arose out of the difficult conditions in the car plants and the ruthless approach of management, desperate to push up productivity.

“Management in the motor industry were notoriously bloody minded,” states Jack Jones, “not only in their relations with employees but among themselves. It was not unusual for top men to be fired in that rough, tough industry. In turn managers tried to reduce the labour force, intensify production, drive hard bargains. Resistance was bound to come as our efforts intensified.”[5]

Between 1955 and 1966, the average number of strikes per year was 2,458, an increase of almost 40 per cent on the 1945-54 figures. As mentioned, the mining industry, until 1962, accounted for over half these strikes. With a sustained pit closure programme under Lord Robens, involving large-scale redundancies, disputes fell off sharply. From being 77 per cent of the total in 1958, strikes in the coal industry fell to 31 per cent of total strikes in 1965 (and less than one per cent by 1970). Still reflecting the right-wing domination of the unions, between 1960 and 1964, unofficial strikes accounted for nearly 60 per cent of all the days lost through strikes, though if the national one-day token strikes are excluded the proportion rises to over 75 per cent.

Yet despite this upturn in industrial struggle, its reflection within the official structures of the unions still lagged far behind. The calm displayed at the TUC Congresses, a long way removed from the shop floor, was a pale reflection of the real mood. “At the 1957 Congress”, states Pelling, “there were no card votes whatsoever; and the 1958 Congress was also much less controversial than usual.”

ETU Trial

Events in 1956, however, were to have a significant, but unexpected, effect within the trade union movement. The British Communist Party was deeply shaken, as was the Communist movement internationally, by the secret revelations of Khrushchev in the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. He was forced to raise the lid on the heinous crimes of Stalinism – the frame-ups, purge trials, labour camps and murders – in order to place the sole blame for these atrocities on the personally of Stalin and away from the regime. In October 1956, another shock-wave hit the CP when the Hungarian Uprising (two general strikes and two insurrections) against the Stalinist rule and its bloody suppression by Russian troops created a widespread crisis internationally. In Britain, up to a third of the party’s membership resigned in protest, including two prominent members in the electricians’ union, Les Cannon and Frank Chapple.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU), with its quarter-of-a-million membership, had been under the control of the Communist Party since the war. But with Cannon and Chapple now in opposition to the party, a battle royal opened up for control of the union. Eventually, both men ended up with Jock Byrne (who was backed by Catholic Action) and former CP member Mark Young, on a programme of a “free democratic union”. They travelled up and down the country to union branches gathering evidence about corrupt practises in union internal elections. These “democrats” received financial aid from a group of Catholic businessmen, members of “moral rearmament”, whose aim was to deter workers’ militancy by appealing to their religious and “patriotic” fervour. Apparently, Vic Feather from the TUC bureaucracy acted as the “go-between” for the conspiracy. Les Cannon was even given a year’s leave of absence on full pay from his job in order to lead the investigation. There were no depths to which the Cannon-Byrne-Chapple axis was not prepared to sink to gain control of the union. It is worth bearing in mind how easy it was for Chapple, Cannon, and co. to gather this evidence. As former members of the CP caucus in the union they must have had intimate knowledge of the ballot-rigging procedures. In fact, Les Cannon, as chief instructor at the union’s college probably trained many of the branch officials involved in the ballot-rigging case. What form of tuition they received from Cannon can only be left to the imagination. Subsequently, the ETU became a highly publicised political confrontation, involving the capitalist press, the TUC, and the Communist Party.

At this time, the CP had a strong industrial base and drew towards it many excellent and sincere class fighters, deeply influence by the aura of the October Revolution. They constituted the militant left of the unions. The best militant activists, shop stewards and convenors in industry, were instinctively drawn to the CP as a means of fighting the right wing. Unfortunately, many of these class fighters were misled and mis-educated by the leadership of the CP, who had long ago abandoned any revolutionary perspective of changing society. For many years, especially since the popular front period, the party sought a left-wing “accommodation” with the union bureaucracy. Its leadership, corrupted by decades of Stalinism, had in reality lost confidence in the working class. This lack of faith had bred a large degree of scepticism, the hallmark and psychological basis for reformism. Such scepticism sometimes even affected genuine militants, who tended to move ahead of their class and became disappointed by the lack of response from their fellow workers. It is not uncommon that those who held such views ended up as a barrier to struggle at a later stage. This mood of despondency became the starting point of all kinds of mistakes and opportunist tendencies, which were to have disastrous consequences in the ETU. A layer of the top officials, who held CP cards, was determined to hold on to their positions (“for the good of the members”) at all costs. Shamefully, this false method led to all kinds of skulduggery, including election fraud, forgery, arbitrary disqualification of branches, and the falsification of electoral returns. Of course, all this played into the hands of the right wing, which took up a hue and cry for “democracy”.

Woodrow Wyatt MP, then a left-wing supporter of Tribune, made allegations of corruption in the magazine Illustrated, which opened up an outcry involving the rest of the media. Wyatt prepared and took part in a series of BBC Panorama programmes on the ETU, and this was followed by an “exposure” in the right-wing New Statesman magazine.

According to John Freeman, the editor of the New Statesman:

“Ever since 1957, the New Statesman has consistently exposed the operations of the Communist clique and urged both the rank and file of the ETU, and the TUC, to take action to remove a scandal which, allowed to go unchecked, would bring grave discredit on the whole trade union movement.”[6]

Of course, these allegations of criminal malpractice were grist to the mill of the right-wing union leaders, which, behind closed doors, were never adverse to such practices. A hue and cry was launched against the “Communist clique” controlling the ETU. Chapple and co. were hailed as the saviours of British trade union democracy. Clearly, no class-conscious worker could condone the actions of the ETU leaders, Foulkes and Haxell, but neither could they support this right-wing witch-hunt orchestrated by the capitalist press whose sole purpose was to discredit the militant left. This hired press has always defended their friends in the right wing of the Labour movement, despite its corrupt double-dealings and links to the intelligence services, both in Britain and the United States. The press barons deliberately turned a blind eye to such malpractices.

Very quickly the TUC bureaucracy was drawn into the controversy, and demanded an explanation from the ETU leaders. As expected, an internal ETU enquiry exonerated the union leaders. However in 1960, Byrne and Chapple issued writs against the union and its officers for alleged fraud in the 1959 general secretary election. In June 1961, the Courts found that a group of ETU leaders, including Frank Foulkes, its president since 1945, and Frank Haxell, its general secretary, had acted to prevent Byrne’s election by “fraudulent and unlawful” means. The judge pronounced Byrne duly elected general secretary of the ETU with immediate effect. The Communist Party had little choice but to distanced itself from the ballot-rigging, and placed the sole responsibility for the affair onto Haxell’s shoulders, who duly resigned from the party.

Arising from the legal judgement, the TUC gave the ETU leaders an ultimatum to debar its officers for five years. Their refusal resulted in the ETU being expelled from the TUC and then the Labour Party. In the ensuing witch-hunt, most of the Communist members and supporters were soon removed from the leadership in the union executive elections. These were conducted under new procedures, which allowed Byrne’s supporters to take control of the leadership, winning nine out of eleven places on the executive. The publicity and acclaim which Chapple, Cannon and the others received in the capitalist press, ensured that in the postal ballot their election to office was guaranteed by a grateful membership. In the election Byrne became general secretary, Les Cannon became president, Chapple became a member of the EC and Young was given a full-time position. The following year, under right-wing control, the ETU was readmitted to both the TUC and Labour Party. To consolidate their victory, the rules of the ETU were then changed banning CP members from holding office. Any member of the union who had a CP card was forced to resign from office or renounce their CP membership. Many tore up their cards, while others resigned their posts, leaving control of the union completely in the hands of the right wing. Hand-picked national and area officials were installed by the leadership to take charge of the day-to-day running of the union. The left in the union suffered from an almighty backlash. Later, Cannon and Chapple used their extensive experience from when they were in the Communist Party to manipulate the union, this time in the interests of the right-wing clique, which ruthlessly controlled the union right up to the 1992 amalgamation, and beyond in the AEEU.

On Byrne’s death Chapple was elected general secretary. In the ensuing period, rank-and-file appeals’ committees and area committees were abolished. Under Cannon and Chapple, literally volumes could be written about the destruction of union democracy in the ETU. It will be sufficient to note that rules were introduced forbidding the reading of unauthorised circulars in branches, forbidding written communication between branches except with the permission of head office, forbidding communication of internal union matter to any outside body, etc. Branches were bureaucratically closed down or amalgamated and placed under the control of appointed officials. The intension of these measures was to drive out the union activists and reduce participation to a minimum, allowing the union apparatus to assume even greater powers. The election of officials was abolished and the appointment system introduced – supposedly to make the union more efficient by giving continuity of employment to officials! With the death of Les Cannon, all real power was concentrated into the hands of the general secretary, Frank Chapple. The ETU was dominated by a totalitarian regime. Increasingly isolated and paranoid of his own toadies on the EC, Chapple even went so far as to secretly tape-record all conversations in his office. His old desk, which is now stored at the union’s headquarters at Hays Court, shows the secret compartments and wires where tape recorders were once hidden from sight. Those tapes, if they ever came to light, would be more devastating than the Watergate tapes of the Nixon administration!

At the 1959 TUC Congress, George Woodcock took over as general secretary from Sir Vincent Tewson. This Congress witnessed a shift to the left with the adoption of an anti-nuclear defence policy and the reaffirmation of Clause Four. Yet despite these successes, the right wing still retained its organisational stranglehold on the movement.

The election of Frank Cousins as general secretary of the TGWU was nevertheless symptomatic of the future changes that would loosen the grip of the right wing. In that year, the Conservative Party won a new term of office under Harold MacMillan’s famous election slogan “You’ve never had it so good”. MacMillan was a very clever and astute bourgeois politician – one of the last in a long line of Tory patricians – who greatly valued “compromise” and “manoeuvre” as diplomatic weapons in the class struggle. In his book, The Middle Way, he expressed the astute belief that “if capitalism had been conducted all along as if the theory of private enterprise were a matter of principle”, and all intervention by the state had been resisted, “we should have had civil war long ago.”[7] With the decline of British capitalism, this breed of Tory leader became increasingly scarce. The Tories of today have more in common with the grocer’s daughter, the narrow-minded get-rich-quick parvenu, than the likes of Harold MacMillian.

Clause Four

In 1959, the Labour Party had been defeated for the third consecutive time, despite its shiny new “moderate” image. This setback prompted the Party’s right wing under Gaitskell to move even further to the right. They immediately began to challenge the whole class basis of the party by proposing to drop nationalisation, change the Party’s name, and break the links with the trade unions. They believed the Labour Party had become too identified with “class” interests, and needed to follow the example of the German Social Democratic Party, which a few years earlier had jettisoned its “out-dated Marxist baggage”. Since the Tories won elections, went the new reasoning, Labour would have to become more like the Tories to win. These arguments sound very familiar forty years later. There is clearly nothing “new” in New Labour or Blairism. But Gaitskell did not succeed in his aim, and although Blair has gone much further in his “counter-revolution”, he will not succeed either in his project to abolish the Labour Party.

Gaitskell’s attack created a storm of opposition within the local Labour Parties, which, in turn, forced the parliamentary lefts to raise some protests. The attempt to scrap Clause Four was thwarted by a revolt of the rank and file, and the other proposals were temporarily shelved for a more opportune time. It took another thirty years before such plans were seriously raised again in the Party.

In 1960, a bitter unofficial strike by Merchant Navy crews broke out over Victorian working conditions, lack of basic rights, low pay, and dissatisfaction with their right-wing union leaders. The unofficial National Seamen’s Reform Movement attempted to maintain the stoppage but it eventually fizzled out. The action nevertheless signalled significant changes in the National Union of Seamen, which had long been a company union, and laid the basis for a further successful official strike in 1966.

Despite this so-called “wild cat” disruption, the national trade union leaders were determined to maintain their collaboration with the Tory government. In 1962, in spite of growing disenchantment over a nine-month pay “pause” imposed by the Tories, the General Council accepted an invitation from the Chancellor to join the new National Economic Development Council, to co-operate in the long-term development of the British economy. At the 1963 TUC Congress, George Woodcock proudly proclaimed that the TUC had moved from Trafalgar Square to the government’s committee rooms. But while they were sweet-talking the TUC leaders in “committee rooms” and embroiling them within government structures, the Tories unleashed attacks upon those working in the nationalised industries, particularly in coal and rail. In January 1963 Dr Richard Beeching (later Lord) was made chairman of the new British Rail and given the task of financially breaking even over the following five years. Consequently, the Beeching axe butchered a fifth of the national rail network, some 3,600 miles of track were closed, including stations, yards and depots, resulting in widespread job losses. But the right-wing leaders of the NUR put up little resistance to this “restructuring”.

Within twelve months, the Profumo scandal had plunged the Tory government into a deep crisis, resulting in MacMillan being replaced by Sir Alec Douglas Home as Prime Minister. The death of Gaitskell also saw a leadership contest within the Labour Party, resulting in the election of former Bevanite, Harold Wilson, as Party leader. A general election in October 1964 witnessed the defeat of the Tories after 13 years of continuous rule and the coming to power once again of a majority Labour government. Wilson promised a new vision that would harness “the white heat of the scientific and technological revolution” and develop an economic National Plan that would transform Britain. Once again, the working class looked with hope to the political front to solve its problems.


[1] Michael Foot, op. cit, p.436,

[2] Jones, op. cit, page 136

[3] Ibid, p.143

[4] Fuller, op. cit, p.228

[5] Jones, op. cit, p.147

[6] C. H. Rolph, All Those in Favour? The ETU Trial, page 10, London 1962

[7] Quoted by Ian Gilmour, Inside Right, p.168, London, 1978