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Since the introduction of the Industrial Relations Act into Parliament in Autumn 1970, The Communist has followed it into legislation and analysed its meaning for the class struggle. This article will continue that analysis and deal with the first decisions of the National Industrial Relations Court (NIRC) under the Act.

Previous articles defined the employing class' position in the economic struggle from World War II until the early 60s. That was: the most important element was the possibility of escalation by the working class. Most important for two reasons:

(1) In a situation of full employment and high demand there were sound economic reasons for keeping production flowing and holding onto workers by granting their demands; the market would take all that the capitalist could bring to it and other workers willing to labour for less would be difficult to find.

(2) A strike brings the class struggle to the surface; normally it is contained beneath the relations of production where the working class must sell its labour power to the capitalists. Thus Marx used dialectical materialism to find the workings of those laws which are not immediately apparent from the surface reality. By putting the class struggle where it is immediately apparent a strike brings with it the necessity for the employers to fight back openly in the class struggle. They not only resist the working class with their economic strength but also politically. In Britain bourgeois democracy developed on the basis of solving episodes in the class struggle by "give and take" - in the interests of stability each side gives and takes, justifying the giving on the basis of preserving the social fabric of co-existence and the taking on the basis of their just demands being met or their just interests being maintained.

The bourgeoisie have been prepared to give substantially to the working class for the sake of maintaining the social fabric. Recently, the press has openly discussed the purpose of conciliation machinery, both voluntary and Government, as being to above all to settle disputes when that involves substantial give from the employers. (Academics have long talked about this purpose. It has only been the need to change it that has forced the press to define it.) Britain has gained much from the bourgeois vantage point from having this developed process of give and take in the economic struggle. In Italy the bourgeoisie have not given social or political expression to their need to maintain the social fabric, with the result that during the Hot Autumn of 1969 strikes escalated and contributed substantially to bourgeois political troubles and seriously disrupted production. The TUC can indeed point to the days lost through strikes in Britain through the '50s and '60s as evidence of the "good industrial relations" here.

In the early 1960s the employing class had economically to redress the balance - their concessions in the interests of political stability were affecting their economic interests. To do this they have had to try to change the content of the "communal" or "public" interests from that of stability to safeguarding the economy. Industrial relations experts whose function was to oil the wheels of collective bargaining are now redundant (the Government dismissed Hugh Clegg from the Civil Service arbitration panel).

The Industrial Relations Act aims at altering the political aim of the economic struggle. Accepting that both sides have a right to wage economic struggle, it lays down different ground rules for what constitutes a "just settlement". Maurice MacMillan at the Financial Times Conference on the Act said: '"What we need in industrial relations in Britain is a new dynamic which a constructive trade union movement can give it by jolting management out of the inertia which negative trade unionism encourages" ... The central and recurring problem of governments was to reconcile sectional and communal interests." Our over-riding objective must be to overcome inflation - rising prices ... Sectional interest could not be adequately served in that matter if the community interest was neglected ... The legislation was not a Trade Union Act ... No employer could, or should feel smug about what was going on. There were very few employers who would be able to rest confidently on their laurels as the legislation began to bite.' (Financial Times, 18.5.72) The economic interests of the ruling class require that both employers and trade unions change their conduct of the economic struggle. Greater exploitation of the working class is now more important than preserving the social fabric, indeed the social fabric must change with the economic necessity. Parliament defined a new social fabric in the Industrial Relations Act which the NIRC [National Industrial Relations Court] is now implementing.

In Britain the rule of law has depended on the consent of those governed by it. When that consent has been withdrawn, the state has not attempted to rule by coercion. It has hit back with political moves to bring about consent; but those political moves have also gone some way to meet the grievances of the lawbreakers. In 1915 when the South Wales coalfield came out on strike in open defiance of the newly legislated Munitions of War Act, they were proclaimed unlawful by the Government. But they were not prosecuted and the Government acceded to their demands. The 1927 Trade Union Act gave the Government and Courts sweeping powers to deal with blacking and sympathetic strikes. Those powers were not used, instead the big employers came forward with a new scheme for industrial peace. The ruling class is well aware that the success of the Industrial Relations Act depends not on their coercive powers but on their political skill and power. Having decided to enter into political confrontation if necessary to change the conduct of the economic struggle, they are choosing their political ground carefully. The NIRC has therefore flatly refused to put Walter Cunningham, a Hull shop steward, outside the law as being responsible for container blacking. Well understanding that the British working class will fight back politically to defend its leaders, the NIRC is not about to give it that chance. Instead the NIRC defines the fault as being that of the "system" of industrial relations and charges the trade union leaders to change that system. It requires real political leadership for the working class to fight back against this instruction - to rely on a sense of loyalty and solidarity is not enough. Passive support by trade union leaders for their rank-and-file's action is not enough, the Industrial Relations Act requires them to defend and justify those actions according to the "new system" of industrial relations.