last night (monday 1st september) we held the first session in the ‘uncaptive minds’ educational series on class struggle in the 1970s. 23 people attended.
after a showing of arise ye workers, a film on the 1972 struggle against anti-union laws and the fight to free the pentonville five (which you can download here), the meeting was addressed by former vauxhall car worker george shaw and sheila cohen, author of ramparts of resistance.
george led off by discussing the very bad working conditions at vauxhall luton, but also the sense of solidarity of the workers there and the easy possibility of bringing production grinding to a halt. building links with workers in other car plants had proven somewhat difficult, while gerry healy’s socialist labour league had hijacked rank-and-file organisation. george said that the ideas of workers’ management put forward by the ‘solidarity’ group, of which he was then a member, were relevant, but they were too geared towards talking about the point of production and lacked a vision for society as a whole. he finished the lead off with a moving passage from marx’s 1844 manuscripts about the alienation of labour, and put the question to the audience as to what impact what he called “fundamental” changes in capital in the last 35 years had made to the relevance of shop stewards.
sheila cohen elaborated on the history of the upsurge – mostly focussing on britain – and conveyed a sense of solidarity that existed at the time as well as the fears which beset the ruling class faced with industrial militancy. nevertheless she made clear that not every dispute was well-organised, citing as an example the seven-week postal strike which was defeated then immediately followed by a telecoms strike which could have been much more effective had the strikes been simultaneous. sheila mentioned the role of the communist party in strikes, but added that left groups involved in struggle should contribute honestly and take somewhat of a ‘back seat’ rather than attempting to manipulate struggles in order to win recruits to ‘the party’ – giving the example of tony cliff’s international socialists, who had some serious industrial implantation before veering towards narrow party-building. she said that there is not such a sense of solidarity today, but the current economic situation and pay restraint may spark action.
a lively discussion followed, with contributors from the floor, raising themes such as their own experience of the 1970s, the changing face of the working-class in britain, the need for international organisation and questioning the role of revolutionaries and left groups in supporting working-class struggles. clara osagiede, centrally involved in the recent london underground cleaners’ strike, also gave a talk about that dispute.
our next discussion will be on monday 15th september at 6:30pm. the title is ‘women in struggle’: liz leicester will lead off a discussion of the 20,000-strong leeds clothing workers’ strike of 1970, which reinvented the flying picket before miners and building workers picked up the idea. we will also be showing a film about the strike, leeds united.
if you want to come to the meeting you need to register in advance: email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
we are pleased to announce that steve hedley, lul regional secretary of the rmt, will be speaking alongside joe marino from the bakers’ union at our december 8th meeting on ‘where did it all go?’.