From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
Joe Gormley, the President of the Mineworkers' Union, has now had a dose of second thoughts. From being a dangerous and inflammatory militant intent on “wrecking the country” by a General Strike he has now become, according to the same News of the World, regarded “as a moderate”.
Gone are the days (only a few weeks ago) when nothing but “an immediate General Strike” to oust the Tory Government would suit him; and the Editor of the News of the World was calling on the General Council of the TUC to “drag him back from the brink”. So far from calling on trade unions to mount a General Strike, he is now calling on Ted Heath to “get back to free bargaining”. Which only goes to show how empty and meaningless all this fierce-sounding talk about General Strikes really is.
The point of his current piece in the News of the World (12th May) is to plead with Heath in the forthcoming round of talks with the TUC to “stop the rent increases and scrap the Industrial Relations Act”. If the Government will do this AND deal with inflation and “rising prices of basic foods like meat, bread, milk, butter and potatoes”, he is sure the unions “will deliver the goods”.
What a change of heart! No more “kick out the Tories”, “General Strikes to elect a new Government”, and so on, etc. He claims that the reason his own miner members voted against strike action this year is “because they were a wee bit tired from last year’s little effort”. The miners were not made tired by striking. Every worker engaged in heavy laborious manual work welcomes a strike as a short break or relief from physical exhaustion. The reason the miners voted against strike action this Spring was because they had not yet settled the debts the last strike landed them in.
In other words, the employers will always beat the workers at the strike game, if the situation is such that they are determined to. The miners showed that they are powerful enough industrially to paralyze industry and force the employers to concede. The employers will do so if they think it cheaper than a fight to a finish.
“All workers want”, Gormley writes, “is more money to meet the rise in the cost of living, plus a little extra on top to raise their living standards.” “Give us,” he whines, “the right to negotiate our pay increases. That way, we’ll have far less industrial trouble than with the Government ramming its pay policy dowN our throats.”
Five weeks previously he was shouting for the General Strike; now, less “industrial trouble”. As a cute and canny, experienced trade-unoin leader, he realizes, from the vote of his own members and the futility of the May 1st demonstration, that the practical possibility of political strikes is, at the moment, nil. He has backed away from “the brink”.
Regarding his presumption to speak for "all workers want”, we have only this to say. Probably he is right that the great majority of workers “only” want more money plus a little increase. Actually they would all prefer a big increase, but don’t dare to think of it.
Those trade unionists who are Socialists do not want merely wage increase, large or small, welcome though these may well be; but the abolition of the wages system. But here, unfortunately, Poor Old Joe, as a practical union leader, is a bit out of his depth.