with the “Summer Budget” and the pay pause, the Tories have abandoned their image of the affluent society. After two nasty but limited economic crises, the accumulated weight of an almost stagnant productivity, starvation of essential social services, monstrously unbalanced armaments investment, and the total failure to check speculation in land values and office building, has brought the facade of affluence crashing down about the Cabinet’s ears. Sterling is continuously under pressure; the balance of trade is continually precarious. The Cabinet is grasping at solutions of straw—the Common Market as a spur to productivity and international competitiveness; the National Planning Council as a long-range method of increasing the economic growth rate. The first straw has just landed across the nations backs: the wage pause.
Lloyd announced the wage pause at the end of July; he will review it in February. The seven months’ freeze grants the Government vital time to set the planning council in motion, to begin to plan a national wages policy, to move us closer to the Common Market. But what will the Labour Movement do with what is left of those vital seven months? Whether the Chancellor renews or cancels the wage pause, the Labour Movement’s responsibility to link industrial and political thinking on a planning council, a national wages policy, and the results of Common Market membership, will not be absolved. We have already witnessed the breakdown of the house of patch-and-paste economic policy; the next few months will see repairs, at crisis-pitch, to the whole structure. The Labour Movement has a chance to challenge the basis of that repair,
The Labour Movement, in reacting to the pay pause, exhibited the dual responses that traditionally mark, and mar, its action. The unions began to move; the political party hung back. This division of response reflects deep divisions of purpose within the Labour movement.
The trade unions exist at the moment, to defend the worker and if possible to improve his wages and working conditions. A union must deal with employers as they exist, and with the government of the day. Its technique is negotiation, and the compromise which is inherent in negotiation. If the results of negotiation are unacceptable, the ultimate recourse is to strike, to test which of the parties has the superior lasting power.
The Labour Party, one still hopes, exists to transform society. If the trade union is a worker’s instrument of defence, at best enabling him to manage a stalemate in the economic struggle, the Labour Party is his instrument of offence, and ultimately, of victory.
From this division of Labour between the two arms of the Labour Movement flows a series of relationships and tensions which have not always been recognised. Many times, in the past, the arms have seemed to be working against one another. And in the present wage pause crisis, there exists the shape of a crucial political struggle arising out of the coming industrial challenge.