Participation, resistance and betrayal among car workers
Ray M, a Unite rep, reads Militant Years, Alan Thornett’s political political "arnin(s a)o't *participation’ then and *partnership’ today+
► Alan Thornett, Militant Years ,-ondon, Resistance Boo#s, 2011.
Militant Years is a tre endo's )io(raphical acco'nt o! ran#/and/!ile resistance at the Morris Motors asse )ly plant in 0o"ley, $%!ord, "hich later )eca e a part o! British -eyland+ The a'thor Alan Thornett "as a leadin( ilitant at 0o"ley 'ntil he "as 1icti ised and sac#ed in 1232+

e oir

o! his li!e as a radical car plant "or#er in $%!ord & and dra"s o't so e

Thornett "as at 1ario's points a shop ste"ard, con1enor and chair o! the !actory’s Transport 4 5eneral ,T45. 'nion )ranch+ 6e "as also chair o! plant’s shop ste"ards co ittee+ 6e 7oined the !actory "or#!orce in 1282 and the 0o 'nist 9arty the !ollo"in( year+

:n 12;; he and other shop ste"ards s"itch alle(iance to the <ocialist -a)o'r -ea('e, the lar(est Trots#yist c'rrent in the le!t at the ti e, led )y 5erry 6ealy+ Thornett and his co rades "ere e%pelled !ro lea('e in 1274, "hich "ent on to rena e itsel! the =or#ers Re1ol'tionary 9arty+

The asse )ly plant had a "or#!orce o! 12,000 in the 12;0s, 100> 'nionised and led )y an elected ?00/stron( shop ste"ards co ittee+ The <-- )oasted 102 e )ers in the area, incl'din( 40 car plant shop ste"ards+ By 12;4 0o"ley )oasted aro'nd 280 stri#es a year+ An o!!icial (o1ern ent in@'iry !o'nd that atrocio's "or#in( conditions "ere to )la e+ The intense press're o! "or#in( on the trac# "as the ain ca'se o! 'nrest+ <ections o! the prod'ction line, each "ith its o"n shop ste"ards, "o'ld see !lare/'ps and "al#o'ts+ $ne section "al#in( o!! tended to ean others )ein( laid o!! as the i pact o! the prod'ction halt spread to other areas+ 9hysical de andin( la)o'r, sectional stren(th and socialist leadership ade the asse )ly plant one o! the ost ilitant in the co'ntry, "ith the stri#e rate risin( to ?00 a year !ro 12;3 to 1230+

Ray MA 9articipation, resistance and )etrayal a on( car "or#ers

re1ol'tionarysocialis +t' )lr+co


$1er the years this ran#/and/!ile stren(th led to )i( i pro1e ents !or at 0o"ley car "or#ers, 'ntil their "a(es and conditions "ere a on( the )est in E'rope+

Production and politics
=or#ers also "on si(ni!icant control o1er 'ch o! the prod'ction process at 0o"ley+ 9iece"or# a(ree ents (a1e shop ste"ards a 1eto o1er the pace o! prod'ctionA shop ste"ards ne(otiated the price !or each 7o)+ :! there "as no deal "or#ers "o'ld slo" their "or# rate to the )asic, drastically red'cin( prod'ction+ The C annin( a(ree entD (a1e the shop ste"ards control o1er sta!!in( le1elsA any chan(e to the 7o) re@'ired ne(otiated chan(es to this a(ree ent )e!ore the 7o) co'ld )e(in+ The C o1e ent o! la)o'rD a(ree ent re('lated 7o) allocationA "or#ers co'ld only )e o1ed o't o! their depart ent on the )asis o! seniority o! ser1ice+ Eo) allocation had pre1io'sly )een a le1el !or patrona(e and discipline+ Fo" it "as placed in the hands o! shop ste"ards+ :n 12;7 a si(ni!icant 1ictory sa" the end o! the colo'r )ar at the plant+ $nce Morris Motors had !or al policy not to e ploy )lac# people+ This had ended in the 1280s, )'t )lac# "or#ers "ere still only e ployed in the cleansin( depart ent+ <hop ste"ards s'ccess!'lly challen(ed this+ By the end o! the 12;0s al ost a !i!th o! "or#ers in the asse )ly plant "ere )lac#+ This 1ictory loo#s e1en ore i pressi1e in conte%t+ Racis "as )ein( sto#ed )y the (o1ern ent and the Fational Front+ <hop ste"ards had to !i(ht racis a on( "or#ers in the plants and a(ainst racist e ploy ent practices+ The esta)lish ent o! a si(ni!icant )lac# inority at the plant "as lar(ely do"n to the e!!orts o! socialist shop ste"ards+ This "as not lost on )lac# "or#ers pro oted !ro s"eepin( !loors+

Battling a Labour government
Thornett (i1es (raphic acco'nts o! ost i portant shop!loor str'((les inside the plant, incl'din( a series o! one/day political stri#es a(ainst -a)o'r’s anti/'nion le(islation and the Tories’ s')se@'ent :nd'strial Relations Act+ B't the )oo# is also (i1es a so)erin( re inder o! ho" 'nion o!!icials can 'nder ine ran#/and/!ile re1olt+ Thornett recalls the resistance to Bar)ara 0astle’s anti/'nion la"s o! 12;2, #no"n as :n 9lace $! <tri!e+ 0o"ley’s ste"ards lo))yied the TU0 to call a national one/day protest stri#e and pers'aded the $%!ord plant "or#ers to 7oin in+ This 'no!!icial action #ic#ed o!! a ca pai(n o! o!!icial stri#es to C#ill the )illD+ At least 280,000 "or#ers str'c# a(ainst a -a)o'r (o1ern ent, e!!ecti1ely endin( 0astle’s plans+

Ray MA 9articipation, resistance and )etrayal a on( car "or#ers

re1ol'tionarysocialis +t' )lr+co


Yet 0astle’s diaries re1eal that the sa e trade 'nion chie!s "ho p')licly attac#ed her "hite paper "o'ld s'pport the proposals in pri1ate+ :t "as or(anisation on the shop !loor that "rec#ed :n 9lace $! <tri#e+ 0astle had (ood reason to hope that trade 'nion leaders "o'ld p'll shop ste"ards into line+ <o e ployers, (o1ern ent and 'nion leaders had a co on ca'se in 'nder inin( the po"er o!

elected shop ste"ards+ Thornett po"er!'lly de onstrates ho" !ar trade 'nion o!!icials, le!t and ri(ht, coll'ded "ith e ployers and the state to c'r) ran#/and/!ile po"er+ An early de!eat !or shop ste"ards at 0o"ley ca e "hen ana(e ent replaced piece"or# "ith

Meas'red Gay =or#+ 9iece"or# in1ol1ed a rate !or each 7o), (i1in( ste"ards si(ni!icant )ar(ainin( po"er+ MG=, in contrast, "as a !lat pay rate esta)lished 1ia ti e and otion st'dies+ MG= "o'ld speed 'p lines and e1ent'ally depress pay !or car "or#ers+ A se1en/"ee# stri#e a(ainst MG= at 0o"ley ended in de!eat at the end o! 1270 "hen 'nion o!!icials ca1ed in+ This "as a si(ni!icant set)ac# !or shop ste"ards in the plant+

Breaking the power of the Trots
A lar(e part o! Thornett’s )oo# details the !i(ht a(ainst his o"n 1icti isation, "hich started in retaliation !or a "in )y 180 dri1ers stri#in( !or a onth+ Thornett and other leadin( ste"ards "ere a )'shed )y an alliance o! e ployers, the ilitants )e sac#ed+ edia & and the 0o"ley =i1es, a (ro'p o! "or#ers’ "i1es+ All de anded the

T45 !'ll/ti ers char(ed Thornett "ith )rin(in( the 'nion into disrep'te and tried to e%pel hi



'nion+ This "as a cr'sade to C)rea# the po"er o! the TrotsD, as Ga1id B'c#le, the T45 re(ional o!!icer responsi)le !or 0o"ley, later re!lected in his e oirs+ C=e did e1erythin( "e possi)ly co'ld to try to )rea# the )ac#s o! these people+D The !li sy char(es a(ainst Thornett and other ste"ards "ere 7oined )y other tacticsA #an(aroo co'rts r'n )y 'nion )'rea'cratsH atte pts to )an the le!t !ro ste"ard eetin(sH )allot anip'lation+ All "ere part o! a syste atic ca pai(n )y 'nion o!!icials a(ainst the plant’s ran#/and/!ile leadership+

The advent of “workers participation”
Thornett pro1ides a detailed and con1incin( acco'nt o! 'nnecessary co pro ises and )etrayals )y 'nion o!!icials that played a si(ni!icant role in derailin( the ran#/and/!ile o1e ent+ B't there "ere other i portant !actors that also ade a7or contri)'tions to the set)ac#s+

=e need to (rasp these i! "e are to hope to co e to ter s "ith the pro)le s that 'nra1elled to the de!eat ran#/and/!ile or(anisation in car plants+ Yet Thornett’s )oo# says little a)o't t"o #ey political relationshipsA that )et"een shop ste"ards and ordinary 'nion and the trade 'nion )'rea'cracy+ e )ers, and that )et"een ran#/and/!ile

Ray MA 9articipation, resistance and )etrayal a on( car "or#ers

re1ol'tionarysocialis +t' )lr+co


British -eyland "as !or ed in 12;3 e ployin( aro'nd 200,000 "or#ers, "ith a !'rther 800,000 in its s'pply chain+ :ts co )ined shop ste"ards co ittee dre" to(ether plant con1enors !ro 'nions+ :t "as the dri1in( !orce in B- & and its in!l'ence "as !elt !ar )eyond+ The car ind'stry "as strate(ically i portant, and car "or#ers one o! the 18 di!!erent

ost co )ati1e sections o! the

"or#in( class+ 40,000 en(ineers str'c# in 1272 in solidarity "ith iners+ 10,000 7oined the ass pic#et <altley (ate, helpin( iners "in a 20> pay rise+ 0ar "or#ers "ere at the crest o! a risin( tide o! ind'strial str'((le that "o'ld e1ent'ally dro"n 6eath’s 1270/74 Tory (o1ern ent+ E ployers "ere !orced to de1elop strate(ies to 'nder ine and de!eat independent ran#/and/!ile leadership+ =hen a -a)o'r (o1ern ent "as elected in 1274, national 'nion leaders s"'n( )ehind its inco es policy+ Mean"hile the ran#/and/!ile "as losin( a cr'cial )attle to pre1ent plant/le1el pay )ein( replaced "ith corporate )ar(ainin(+ Fational corporate )ar(ainin( at B- "as 7'st one step in the e))in( o! the shop ste"ards o1e ent

and its econo ic po"er+ This )e(an "ith national a)olition o! piece "or#+ 0on1enors and !'ll/ti e 'nion o!!icers "o'ld no" ne(otiate "a(e deals+ :n 1278, shortly a!ter British -eyland’s nationalisation, C"or#ers participationD )eca e 'nion policy+ The "or#er participation sche e at British -eyland "as #no"n as the Ryder 9lan+ :t "o'ld s'c# senior ste"ards into coll'sion "ith ana(e ent and ne'tralise shop!loor acti1is +

ndermining the shopfloor
9articipation str'ct'res "o'ld increasin(ly pro1ide an alternati1e str'ct're to shop ste"ard or(anisation, not least )eca'se o! the 0o 'nist 9arty’s acceptance o! the plan+ The 09 "as in!l'ential in the car ind'stry, ha1in( )'ilt a serio's )ase in the precedin( !o'r decades+ :t "as central to sellin( the Ryder 9lan at B- to a layer o! ran#/and/!ile ilitants+ A 0o 'nist 9arty pa phlet, British -eylandA <a1e :t, ar('ed that Cthe 0o 'nist 9arty not only considers these proposals o! 1al'e and )ene!it to -eyland "or#ers in the short ter + =e also )elie1e they are o! e%ceptional i portance in the str'((le !or socialis +D :n practice "or#er participation ade 09 reps and con1enors responsi)le !or day/to/day

i ple entation o! ana(e ent policy+ This eant policin( the "or#!orce, dealin( "ith stri#es and en!orcin( C7ointD decisions+ :n t'rn the three/tier participation str'ct're ,plant, di1isional and national le1el. so'(ht "ith so e s'ccess to t'rn shop ste"ards into cheerleaders !or co petiti1eness and speed/'p+ <oon #ey ste"ards li#e Gere# Ro)inson, con1enor at -on()rid(e and chair o! the Bco )ine, "ere prono'ncin( in C7ointD reports that C"e can (ra) that e%tra )it o! the "orld ar#ets and (i1e o'rsel1es the rep'tation "e 'ndo')tedly deser1eD+ These co ittees "o'ld e1ent'ally allo" B)osses to !oist responsi)ility !or ana(e ent decisions on to participatin( shop ste"ards, incl'din( decisions s'ch as assi1e plant clos'res and 7o) c'ts+

Ray MA 9articipation, resistance and )etrayal a on( car "or#ers

re1ol'tionarysocialis +t' )lr+co


!esistance to participation
Thornett recalls a "onder!'l story o! "or#ers resistin( a 1278 atte pt to i ple ent participation+ The 0o"ley 9articipation 0o ittee decided to la'nch a C@'ality ca pai(nD on the 9rincess trac# & the ost ilitant trac# in the plant+ 9rincess "or#ers "o'ld !ace i ediate disciplinary action i! their "or# "as s')standard+ Mana(e ent soon s'spended t"o trac# "or#ers "itho't pay on alle(ed @'ality (ro'nds+ The trac# "al#ed o't !or t"o days+ 9articipation 0o ittee shop ste"ards et "ith stri#in( "or#ers to o!!er a C7ointD in@'iry in ret'rn !or a "ithdra"al o! s'spensions+ B't the stri#ers had no !aith in the proposed in@'iry+ They 1oted to re7ect the proposal and (o ho e !or the rest o! the day+ The ne%t day "or#ers disco1ered that the C7ointD in@'iry had )een set 'p anyho"+ The trac# pro ptly do"ned tools and a(ain et 9articipation 0o ittee shop ste"ards+ They deno'nced the in@'iry, 1otin( instead !or a shop ste"ards in@'iry into pro)le s "or#ers !aced on the trac#+ A !'rther 1ote r'led that any ore s'spensions "o'ld )e s'spensions "ere "ithdra"n+ A !e" days later t"o et )y 9rincess "or#ers closin( do"n the Forth "or#s 'ntil the

ore "or#ers "ere s'spended+ 9rincess "or#ers do"ned tools and spread in'tes the "hole Forth "or#s

thro'(h the plant, )'ildin( )arricades across the other trac#s+ =ithin "as at a standstill+ The 9articipation 0o ittee con1enor re!'sed to

eet the stri#ers, "ho decided to

arch to his o!!ice

in <o'th "or#s any"ay+ 6e "as loc#ed inside ('arded )y ana(e ent and sec'rity+ <o e "or#ers (ot thro'(h a side "indo" and e er(ed thro'(h the !ront a !e" in'tes later tradin( ins'lts "ith the con1enor+ An ho'r later, Forth "or#s re ained at a standstill and the con1enor’s o!!ice 'nder sie(e+ Mana(e ent ca1ed in and "ithdre" the s'spensions+

"ackings and closures
1278 sa" the Ryder Report on B- esta)lish corporate )ar(ainin( and participation )odies to prepare the "ay !or a ne" )oss, <o'th A!rican )'siness an Michael Ed"ardes+ 6e "as to 'se o! C7oint interestD ideolo(y+ a#e ore r'thless

:n 1277 Ed"ardes "as (i1en carte )lanche to restore British -eyland to pro!ita)ility and ret'rn it to the pri1ate sector+ 6e scrapped the Ryder plan and la'nched a ne" initiati1e called Bac# Fro The Brin#+

6e 'n1eiled it at the Ienil"orth 6otel in 0o1entry to an a'dience o! o1er 700 shop ste"ards, 'nion o!!icers, plant directors and ana(ers+ This #ind o! 7oint con!erence "as 'nprecedented in B- and "as testi ony to detri ental e!!ects o! three years’ participation+

Ray MA 9articipation, resistance and )etrayal a on( car "or#ers

re1ol'tionarysocialis +t' )lr+co


At the con!erence Ed"ardes o)tained the consent o! con1enors and 'nion o!!icials !or at least 12,800 sac#in(s+ Gere# Ro)inson rea!!ir ed the 09’s s'pport !or participation, leadin( a standin( o1ation !or the B- chair an that lasted se1eral in'tes+ Eac# Eones and 6'(h <canlon, (eneral secretaries o! the T45 and AUE=, later appeared alon(side Ed"ardes in ad1erts captionedA C=e’re all on the sa e side o! the !ence+D :n 1230 Ro)inson "as sac#ed & a conscio's )lo" a(ainst the shop ste"ards o1e ent+ B't )y this

point the co )ine had )een !atally 'nder ined )y the "illin(ness o! Ro)inson and others to enter the participation co ittees set 'p )y the -a)o'r (o1ern ent+ The 09’s enth'siastic s'pport !or participation and its #ey ideolo(ical co ponent, Cco pany 1ia)ilityD, eant it co'ld not o)ilise e )ers to de!end Ro)inson once Ed"ardes declared it "as a choice )et"een Ro)inson or clos're+

# catalogue of collusion
Thornett ar('es that 'nion o!!icials coll'din( "ith ana(e ent to 'nder ine the ran#/and/!ile opened the door to the Thatcher onsla'(ht+ 6e pro1ides an o1er"hel in( catalo('e o! e1idence to s'pport his position+ They 'nder ined 'nion de ocracy, or(anised ass sca))in( a(ainst "or#ers in ri1al 'nions, and

so"ed the seeds o! di1ision and disill'sion a on( 'nion e )ers+ =hat’s re ar#a)le is the contin'ed resilience o! ran#/and/!ile "or#ers in resistin( this treachery !or se1eral years+ B't "or#ers participation "as a central plan# o! the e ployers’ strate(y+ :t too played a cr'cial role in de!eatin( the ran#/and/!ile+ And as Thornett accepts, no)ody 'nderstood the si(ni!icance o! participation 'ntil it "as too late+ By the ti e Ed"ardes had arri1ed, 'nions had already )een "ea#ened+ Militant shop ste"ards "ere also 'nder attac# !ro "ithin+ Their shop !loor 'nion str'ct'res "ere 'nder ined and in 0o"ley e1ent'ally dis antled+ By 1232, Ed"ardes had sac#ed tens o! tho'sands and closed nearly 20 plants+ 6e )eca e a role odel in ind'strial ana(e ent !or Thatcher+ 0oal )oss :an Mc5re(or, later headh'nted )y Thatcher to ta#e on the iners, c't his teeth as a B- )oard e )er 'nder Ed"ardes+

Lured into the trap
The "or#ers participation co ittees and ideolo(ical trap o! 1ia)ility allo"ed capacity and annin( le1els to )e c't r'thlessly "ith little e!!ecti1e resistance+ :n 1231, d'rin( a third "a1e o! clos'res, shop ste"ards )e(an to realise that "or#ers participation had )een a t'rnin( point !or the e ployers+ 0on1enor and co )ine treas'rer Mic# 0lar#e ar('ed that Cthe pro)le "as that Ed"ardes had l'lled ost o! 's into s'pportin( hi at the 1277 Ienil"orth con!erence, and this is the res'ltD+

Ray MA 9articipation, resistance and )etrayal a on( car "or#ers

re1ol'tionarysocialis +t' )lr+co


Thornett says that once shop ste"ards had accepted the 1ia)ility ar(' ent, it "as i possi)le !or a sin(le plant or ind'stry to resist the chan(es+ :t "o'ld ha1e ta#en a 1ery di!!erent set o! politics in the trade 'nion o1e ent & and there!ore a di!!erent attit'de to str'((le & to ha1e a1oided this !ate+ The str'((les co1ered in Thornett’s )oo# o!!ered a (reat opport'nity to o1erco e the historic "ea#ness o! the British shop ste"ards o1e entA stron( or(anisation and "ea# politics+ Thornett says it "as a chance to !or(e a political o1e ent that co'ld (o )eyond the constraints o! -a)o'ris and 09 thin#in( that do inated the national ran#/and/!ile leadership+ 6o"e1er, Thornett and his co rades also issed a !antastic opport'nity to de!eat participation at 0o"ley+ The !i(ht "a(ed )y 9rincess trac# "or#ers co'ld ha1e )een (eneralised across 0o"ley & and then perhaps across the ind'stry+

Learning the lessons
=e need to learn lessons !ro ista#es detailed in this 1al'a)le )oo#A in partic'lar coll'sion )y trade 'nion o!!icials and ri(ht "in( reps a(ainst e!!ecti1e shop!loor resistance+ Acti1ists need to con!ront these pro)le s as "e re)'ild de ocratic "or#place str'ct'res today+ =e need to reconstit'te the idea o! C"or#ers’ po"erD i! "e are to re)'ild independent ran#/and/!ile or(anisation+ The )est "ay to achie1e this is, o! co'rse, thro'(h so e si(ni!icant 1ictories+ B't in the a)sence o! si(ni!icant 1ictories "e still need to n'rt're ran#/and/!ile sel!/acti1ity at "hate1er le1el it c'rrently e%ists+ Ge1elopin( this resistance "ill in t'rn de1elop class con!idence and class conscio'sness+ That in1ol1es a conscio's political leadership that challen(es CpartnershipD, the and C1ia)ilityD+ odern incarnation o! CparticipationD

Acti1ists "ill need to de1elop an alternati1e 1ision o! ind'stry and society or(anised thro'(h a politics that o)ilises "or#ers a(ainst the a'sterity a(enda o! )oth (o1ern ent and e ployers & )y or(anisin( "here1er opport'nities present the sel1es+

Ray MA 9articipation, resistance and )etrayal a on( car "or#ers

re1ol'tionarysocialis +t' )lr+co


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