In May 1981, the Labourites won the Local elections and obtained a majority on the Greater London Council, providing the WRP leadership with an opportunity to extend its relations with “centrist currents” in local government who were defending the capitalist state against the working class. The significance of this turn in relation to the class struggle was soon illustrated in the most striking manner.
In June, the underground (subway) workers’ union threatened to strike to win a 15 percent wage increase. The News Line replied in an editorial entitled “Mr. Weighell’s Double-Cross,” dated June 26, 1981:
“There is only one way to describe the all-out strike call by Sidney Weighell to London tube workers—it is a provocation by a right winger aimed at discrediting the new left-wing led Greater London Council...
“With his union conference a few days away, Weighell has set out to push the GLC—which has direct control of London Transport—into a confrontation it does not seek...
“The Workers Revolutionary Party has said consistently that sectional demands must be subordinated to the main struggle against the Tory government. Only Thatcher will be aided by battles between workers and Labour councils.
“But Weighell isn’t interested in the fight against the Tories, as his diatribe against Livingstone proves. NUR members on the Underground should reject his decision and stand firm with the Greater London Council against the main enemy—Thatcher, Heseltine and Fowler”
On July 4, 1981 the News Line demanded that:
“A confrontation between the National Union of Railway men (NUR) and the Labour-led Greater London Council over London Transport’s pay claim must be avoided at all costs.
“The threatened strike by Underground men from July 20 would create a dangerous split in the unity of the labour and trade union movement, and the Tories will rush in to exploit it...
“Any wage negotiations between the GLC and the NUR must take these political and economic facts of life into account...
“The unions have the right to go forward with their full claim and the Labour leader Ken Livingstone would be the last person to deny them this right.
“But equally, the GLC leaders have the right to demand that Weighell wil stand in unity with the council in its struggle against the Tories.”
Thus, in the name of unity, the WRP made it clear that it would support, in the event of a strike, whatever measures the GLC chose to take against the union. On July 8, 1981, the News Line published a full page letter from Livingstone in which the position of the GLC was defended—thus establishing the complete solidarity between the WRP and Livingstone against the working class.
There was not an ounce of difference between Healy’s line against the transport workers and that of the Stalinists in Spain in 1937 and during World War II. Whereas the Stalinists demanded that the working class should subordinate its interests to the requirements of the so-called “anti-fascist” struggle, the WRP insisted that “sectional struggles”—i.e., those of the working class—“must be subordinated to the main struggle against the Tory government.”
This phrase amounted to a cynical play on the word “struggle.” For a Trotskyist, the most crucial stage in the development of the class struggle against the bourgeois enemy comes when the working class enters into conflict not only with the established right-wing leaders but more importantly with the lefts. This is an unmistakeable sign that the working class is seeking a path toward revolutionary struggle.
Bourgeois society in Britain is never in greater danger than when the working class begins to saw away at its vital prop among the labor lefts. But at precisely this stage, the WRP functioned as the most conscious defender of these demagogues of reformism and, therefore, of capitalism itself. Refusing to place demands upon these lefts—and thus exposing in the most vivid manner their refusal to break with the bourgeoisie—the WRP leadership acted to discipline the working class on their behalf. All the immense resources that had been accumulated by the WRP were employed to create an immense obstacle between the working class and the path to socialist revolution. In the fullest political and historical sense, Gerry Healy had become a traitor to the working class, an enemy of Marxism and a political agent of the bourgeoisie within the labor movement.
His monstrous betrayal of the working class had direct and devastating political consequences within the British workers movement. The WRP worked consciously to deprive the working class of a revolutionary perspective. Instead, it argued day in and day out that there existed no alternative to the policies of the left reformists—the hapless servants of capital. Under his leadership, the WRP sowed demoralization and confusion within the working class. An organization which calls itself revolutionary can commit no greater crime against the working class. The message from the WRP was: The Labourites are in power—Call off your struggles—Abandon your wage claims—Maintain unity with the Reformists—Place your fate in their hands—And, for God’s sake, get off the streets and go home.