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

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.

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