Editorial from the March 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard
The background of industrial unrest and resentment at the Government's wages policy, highlighted by the stoppage of work by three million engineering and shipyard workers for one day on February 5th, led many newspapers to surmise that perhaps we may see a repetition of the ”general strike” of 1926, when upwards of two million workers came out in support of the miners who were on strike against a reduction of pay. The Government, under cover of a Declaration of Emergency, used troops and the courts and its control of propaganda to defeat the general strike in nine days, and the miners, though they endured semi-starvation for nine months, eventually had to go back on the employers’ terms. The propertied class had won, though it cost them £100 million.
Could it happen again? The Government possibly thought that it might and according to the Sunday Express (28/1/62) a plan to meet that eventuality was prepared last July at the time the Chancellor announced the "pay pause.” If the Government had wanted to provoke a repetition of 1926 it could probably have got it by enforcing an immediate freezing of all wages for an indefinite time some of its self-appointed advisers in the Press said that it ought to do this in the name of “logic” and “fairness.” But perhaps the outward appearance of muddle, uncertainty, vacillation and illogicality were not just stupidity but a flexible Government policy of dragging out the dispute, dividing the workers and preventing what they failed to prevent in 1926.
They bought off the teachers, then the electricity supply workers, and got the miners and railwaymen negotiating over small offers made to them—it is, of course, absurd to suppose that the Government, if it had really wanted to, could not have barred all concessions in the three nationalised industries. In January they announced the restoration of powers to the Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal. except the right to back-date awards past April 1, 1962, thus inducing the civil servants to call off their “work-to-rule”; brought the main Post Office work-to-rule to an end and left the Post Office engineers working-to-rule on their own.
Then came the White Paper, The Next Step, with its prospect of small wage increases in stage two of the wages policy. Six months respite had been gained, six months nearer to the time, they hope, when some improvement in exports will ease the position. This left the Government and the employers still facing the main threat, a possible prolonged strike in the engineering industry. But in the meantime they had induced the TUC to join the National Economic Development Council, thus further lessening the possibility of any united trade union support for an engineering strike. True, the TUC had declared that it would not endorse the Governments' pay pause, but the Sunday Pictorial (4/2/62) discloses that the TUC rejects the pause because it is considering the alternative of replacing wage increases at the present time by increased old age pensions or sick benefit, or by allocating savings bonds redeemable within three to five years. By contrast, the TUC had in 1926 been pushed by the rank-and-file into leading the general strike.
While we are on the subject of comparisons with 1926 some other aspects ought not to pass unnoticed. The railwaymen. miners and electrical workers were then demanding a “solution” of their problems by nationalisation: now they have it and are not so sure, but the engineering workers and builders still cherish the same delusion.
They were all longing for blessed relief in the next Labour Government which turned out to be the great debacle of 1929-1931. And then, as now, the economic journals carried the outpourings of the “new men” who had, they said, at long last discovered how to manage Capitalism, rid it of crises and make it function smoothly.
The more Capitalism changes, the more it is the same thing!