Thursday, December 11, 2014

Telling it like it wasn't (1995)

Book Review from the April 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Strike Back by Ernie Roberts (Published by the author 1994)

The only thing of interest in this autobiography of a long-standing supporter of state-capitalist Russia who was an Assistant General Secretary of the AEU for twenty years and Labour MP for Hackney North from 1979 to 1987 is the following lying attack on the Socialist Party. It refers to an incident that allegedly took place in a Coventry factory about 1940:
"Armstrong-Whitworth had always been a well-organised factory, and as a result, wages and conditions there were among the best in the city. A small group of men - about ten in all - steadfastly refused to join the union. Not because they were anti-Socialist, but because they were members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which was firmly anti-union. They claimed that trade union leaders were the lieutenants of capitalism - saddling the workers so that the boss could ride them better. Finally, the other workers decided to take some action against the SPGB members for breaking the closed shop, and they approached their shop stewards with the problem. The solution was a fairly amicable one: the non-union men agreed that they would pay a contribution equivalent to their union subscription to a charity of their choice, so that there could be no question of their opting out of membership for financial reasons, and the rest of the shop then let them hold on to their anti-union principles in peace" (pp. 32-33).
Anyone who knows anything about the SPGB knows this can't be true. The SPGB was founded by workers who were active members of their unions, particularly in the building trade. When the issue of the Party's attitude to the existing pure-and-simple, "reformist" trade unions came up soon after the Party was founded in 1904, the policy of opposing them by trying to set up rival "revolutionary" unions were rejected in favour of working within them to defend the workers' day-to-day interests at work within capitalism. Ever since Socialist Party members have been active in various trade unions, including the AEU.

It is possible that Roberts is referring to an incident, involving members of the old SLP, but the fact that he associates it with the SPGB reflects the influence of the now defunct Communist Party (of which he was first a member and then a fellow traveller) which always used to spread the lie that we were "anti-union".
Adam Buick