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New Left Review I/116, July-August 1979


John Suddaby

The Winter ’79 Strikes in Camden

Revolutionary socialists have traditionally assumed that it is among the strongly organised industrial workers that the first stirrings of a revolutionary consciousness would emerge and have identified this group as the backbone of the revolutionary process. This approach has often made them unable to appreciate the significance of work among service workers in the public sector. Of course it is true that these workers generally possess a weaker capacity for struggle than industrial workers and their actions usually have a less direct impact on the capitalist class. Traditionally they have been less open to revolutionary socialist ideas. But recent experience in Britain shows that action by manual workers employed by the local authorities and hospitals can have big political reverberations, both at local and national level. The service nature of their jobs means that they are brought into close contact with wide layers of the working class community. Their conditions of work, and the quality of the service they can provide, are of direct interest to most working people. A strike by public sector service workers immediately raises issues concerning the conditions of life of the whole working class community that are not automatically posed by an industrial dispute in the private sector. As we will see, even at the level of trade union tactics, the public sector manual workers are obliged to consider the wider implications of their actions in any dispute with their employers, and the potential exists for these struggles to have a politicising effect on the whole working class community.

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