The Birmingham-Oxford strike, 1982

Submitted by AWL on 30 December, 2010 - 11:09 Author: Socialist Organiser

"Our executive is supposed to be so left wing. We've even got a President who supports the dreaded 'Militant' tendency. But they're all piss and wind as far as I can see. They never wanted the strike, and they've given us no real support up to now."

That was the comment of a CPSA picket in Birmingham to Socialist Organiser (no 111, December 2 1982) during their three-month strike over jobs in October-December 1982. The CPSA executive for 1982-3 had a Broad Left majority. But that Broad Left executive tried three times to end the strike with compromise - twice failing, eventually succeeding. They did nothing to help spread the struggle. Kevin Roddy, a Militant supporter and then President of the union, made one of the attempts to end the strike in person.

The basic argument of Militant and their co-thinkers was that this was the wrong time and the wrong issue for a fight. Better keep the union's powder dry for 'the big one' - the 1983 pay fight. In this way they subordinated the class struggle to preordained schemas worked out by a preordained leadership. Instead of seeing the job of socialists as starting from and helping to develop the real struggles of the rank-and-file, they demanded that the rank-and-file fit into the schedule of the socialists.

80 DHSS workers in Oxford and nearly 1,000 in Birmingham struck to demand increased staffing. The background was increased pressure on the workers from two directions; both from the lengthening dole queues (meaning more work) and from the Tory government's determination to cut civil services numbers.

On October 27 Kevin Roddy proposed in Oxford a deal which gave Oxford and Birmingham (between them) 52 extra posts temporarily - in return for CPSA nationally ending its overtime ban and ban on casuals, and promising no strikes on cuts or staffing. The deal was rejected unanimously in Oxford and 427-26 in Birmingham.

On November 19, the CPSA NEC again recommended the same deal, only slightly changed. Rejection as unanimous again in Oxford, 520-23 in Birmingham. The CPSA NEC began to do something, calling a one-day national strike on December 3. But at the CPSA Broad Left conference on November 27, a motion to condemn the NEC for recommending acceptance was defeat. The motion, moved by Socialist Organiser supporter Penny Barnett and backed by the Oxford strikers, also called for extending the struggle to an all-out national strike.

On December 9, a national meeting of CPSA DHSS delegates voted for a proposal from Oxford to recommend an all-out national strike from January 17. A CPSA special conference was planned for January 12. The strength of the struggle was making itself felt despite the Broad Left. But then the government retreated slightly, and the NEC used the Christmas break to sink the struggle.

Just before Christmas the NEC voted unanimously to accept a new offer, increasing the temporary extra posts to 100 and withdrawing the demand that the CPSA ended the overtime ban and promised no strike action. The NEC cancelled the strike call and the special conference, and ordered the strikers back to work.

Evidence was that top TUC and Labour Party leaders were central in engineering this deal. The CPSA Broad Left leaders went along quietly.

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