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New Left Review I/77, January-February 1973

Anthony Barnett

Class Struggle and the Heath Government

In the spring and summer of 1972, British miners, railwaymen and dockers each in turn successfully defied the Heath Government. On no previous occasion in British history has the administration of the day suffered such a sequence of reverses from groups of workers pursuing economic demands. The results of these outstanding events took many socialists, at home and abroad, by surprise. That there would be hard struggles in 1972 was clear before the year began, that advances were possible was plain to see, but the scale of the victories which were actually won surpassed most expectations. This article will try to interrogate these events, from the miners’ determined stand to the tuc’s muffled attempts to compromise. Necessarily it will be limited. Any ongoing analysis must at this stage be constrained by the still uncertain upshot of the crisis of the past year. In particular, the economy may expand rapidly as in France after May 1968, or it may return to partial recession as in Italy after the contestazione of 1969. But while it is hard to assess the unity of events that are still unfolding, the continuation of the conflict makes it more urgent to debate its initial lessons.

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