Turner, Clack and Roberts have written an excellent book.footnote1 They show that two distinct general demands have arisen among carworkers: for ‘fair wages’ based on principles of comparability, and for ‘job rights’ based upon a conception of property in the job. Both of these challenge the traditional prerogatives of management. The extent of the change in mood, and of the challenge, can be measured in the following table which contrasts the number of striker-days in the car industry between the wars and since 1945:

Thus, during the inter-war years, barely a sixth of the days on strike were attributable to non-wage disputes: since the war this total has increased almost tenfold. Challenges have been increasingly frequently made to managerial ‘rights’ to hire or fire, to determine workloads and speeds of machinery, and to decide ‘working arrangements, rules and discipline.’ Care is taken to document changes in the intensity of disputes over particular matters: disputes on union relations, for instance, have become considerably less frequent but markedly more weighty. The result is a work which provides a valuable corrective not only to official statistics, but still more to the figures put out by the car employers themselves, which are shown to have no definitional basis, and to comprehend a whole series of minscule incidents (including a dispute at Vauxhalls which cost 17 manhours and a series of lunchhour meetings at Rover that ran over their time, and which together accounted for one fifth of the ‘strikes’ reported by that firm.)

The incidence of wage and redundancy disputes clearly corresponds quite closely to fluctuations in seasonal demand, and to governmental manipulation of demand. This reflects important fluctuations in earnings, and emphasizes a certain insecurity which is the only general cause of strikes that survives the scrutiny of this research. For the fact is that the frequency and intensity of disputes in the motor industry is increasing at a time when the general tendency of strikes is not. What are the reasons for this? The strains of track work are shown to be exaggerated in many explanations, which assume quite falsely that working conditions in motors are exceptionally adverse. Plausible stories about the strike-proneness of green labour are undermined by the simple device of examining the percentages of employees in various age-groups employed by different firms and by the car industry as a whole, compared with other industries. The alleged ‘isolation’ of plants, and the factor of plant size, are both carefully examined and found wanting as genuine explanations. The complexity of systems of payment is investigated, to reveal the collapse of skill differentials, widespread payment-by-results, but little hard evidence that methods of payment—as opposed to fluctuations in payments— —are any great cause of tension. What remains is the problem of insecurity, and with it the problem of control, of limitation of arbitrary management power.

Turner, Clack and Roberts do not glamorize the struggles over issues of control. They have taken a painstaking look at the structure of trade unionism in the industry, and the state of shop floor organization. Whilst they report in a cool and objective way on the scope of attacks on managerial prerogatives, they are careful not to extend that scope into a generalized offensive, but to record it for what it is, a series of partial and disconnected skirmishes. They comment on the fragmentation of motor trade unionism—not only the plurality of organizations which are involved in it, but also the parochialism of factory committees themselves. They adjudge the combine committees of shop stewards at national level ‘not particularly effective’. In short, they describe a level of organization and consciousness which is still rather rudimentary, in which struggles about control are inchoate and unstructured, and in which general demands and integrated struggles have not yet evolved. A mirror of this situation can be found in the results of a Gallup Poll of motor workers undertaken for the Daily Telegraph last January. Gallup asked their sample of present and recently dismissed car workers to react to six statements, saying how much truth there was in them:

Clearly the car workers have yet to gain self-confidence and consciousness of their own power: these responses are defensive, and selfdestructive. As the Daily Telegraph enthusiastically commented: ‘The workers are clearly in a mood to make a contribution to increased efficiency.’ Indeed, that is just what they will be coerced into doing, as the Government develops its plans for rationalization of the economy. Placed in a vital growth industry, the powers of car workers are seen by those in authority as a serious threat to competition with the Common Market industries. It is for this reason that Scamp has been set to work, to trouble-shoot for the industry.

Socialists and trade unionists need to draw a number of lessons from the situation described in this work. Firstly, defensive struggles, however firmly fought, are at a disadvantage in a period of structural change. Secondly, the campaign for workers’ control, which has given rise to demands which have been successfully articulated at a national level in docks, mines, steel, and public transport must enter the growth sector in which its future will be determined. It is not enough to demand structural reforms in the declining, loss-bearing sectors of the economy alone; socialist advance will only occur when the workers’ control movement extends itself to embrace both the industries whose structural weaknesses compel the present fierce rationalization drive, and those industries which are the growth sector of international neo-capitalism. Thirdly, there is the potential for a serious and co-ordinated campaign for control demands in the motor industry.