last night’s meeting on the upsurge 1968-74

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 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?’.  

13 thoughts on “last night’s meeting on the upsurge 1968-74

  1. The launch of Uncaptive Minds was a breath of fresh air, the platform had an unique balance compared to many traditional left events by having both a worker and intellectual, putting into practice communists desire to overcome the division between ‘mental and manual labour’. It was great to get a voice of workers from the shop-floor during the upsurge alongside Sheila’s account. George who worked at Vauxhall was also a member of the libertarian socialist group Solidarity, which he pointed out was 40% industrial workers – compare that our left sects today who always moan how hard it is to recruit workers! But that was’nt the only strength – Solidarity generated a wealth of ideas and rediscovered many lost texts of critical Marxism. It was important to hear George as many of the traditional left try write the old Solidarity out of history.

    I think also the discussion was good, despite the fact some the traditionalists were uncomfortable in a forum where people want to actually discuss the subject they came to discuss – Class the struggle in the 1970’s instead of the usual trading abuse and point scoring about internecine squabbles in left groups, topics that most workers don’t give a shit about.

    Whilst we certainly need a genuine, communist workers party, it was refreshing that none of the speakers saw this as the core of their analysis but instead focused on workers self-organisation. George left an important question on the relevance of the shop-steward and those forms of workers organisation today? I felt however we could have heard more on the question of workers-self management which saw a resurgence. But that coming on a future class.


  2. Agreedmore could have been said of workers management and perhaps we also need to differentiate between that idea and workers control. All in all a good show and thanks to MT for thew cabaret.


  3. Is it true that you attempted to exclude members of th AWL, and then attempted to stop them speaking?


  4. Chas,

    funny, one minute you’re bemoaning the lack of comments on the Obama thread over at the Shiraz blog in comparision to the AWL/Broder post, and then the next minute you’re over here asking after David’s new venture.

    Would your pot like to meet my kettle? :-)

    But as you asked, what’s this about Martin Thomas providing the cabaret? He doesn’t seem the type.

    Paul Hampton, on the other hand, does seem the type.


  5. I saw an ad for the meeting and thought it wasn’t public cos the address for the meeting was not on it. So I dont know why all those AWL people came to it. Shiela Cohen and another woman criticed them too, Dave Broader let 3 or 4 of them speak. But nobody wanted to hear about their groups problems.


  6. My understanding was that the meeting was semi-public and that an invite was needed to attend. And attend I did on that basis only to find a ‘team’ of 5 AWL’ers present despite being asked to leave what was made clear to them was not a public meeting. In the end 3 AWL’ers did speak and all insisted on asking questions about the departure of the meetings organisers that were not related to the topic of the meeting. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair the place to raise such a question was not in this meeting.


  7. So in other words the comments made on this blog and in other places by AWL members have been a little bit less than honest, and their behaviour was little better than healylite sectarians?


  8. Actually thinking about it for thirty seconds their behaviour indicates the fear David Broder et als departure appears to have instilled in them, sad and a tragedy that they should have degenerated so. The AWL aside will the Commune be holding more public events?


  9. charliethechulo, the AWL people were allowed to speak. Martin made a speech from the floor, which he made facing sideways, addressing his own members. When he went over the time limit, chairperson Broder asked him to stop speaking, which produced some hue and cry from the AWL section of the audience.
    It seems to me that while the AWL seem to have come along to discuss the recent split/defections the audience were there to watch the film and hear the speakers (none of whom are party to the dispute with AWL) and effectively insisted on their right to do so.


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