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Pat Wall

The Confidence of a Marxist


From Militant, No. 741, 22 March 1985.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

WE REPRINT here Pat Wall’s prophetic speech at last year’s BLOC conference as an excellent example of Marxist perspective and revolutionary optimism.

Pat Wall, President, Bradford Trades Council, an Evertonian on his way to Wembley:

In the early hours of the day following the general election I and other activists in the Bradford North constituency addressed some two or three hundred workers who remained to speak to us after that defeat.

We made the point that we felt that defeat was bitter, not as individuals, not in one constituency, but because we saw the defeat of the right-wing leadership in the Labour Party by the Tories as a defeat for our class. Just as we see any defeat for a right-wing trade union leadership by the employers as a defeat for our class.

We said the arena of struggle had moved from parliament, because of the massive Tory majority, into the struggle of workers in industry, and the struggle of communities, like the struggle of Liverpool City Council at the present time.

In less than one year we see, in my opinion, a decisive change in the mood of our class. We are only at the beginning. But if we weren’t at the beginning of a change in mood there wouldn’t be three overspill meetings at this conference; if we weren’t in a change of mood Tony Benn wouldn’t have defeated the national Tory press in the Chesterfield by-election; if we weren’t in a change of mood we wouldn’t have the magnificent struggle waged by the Yorkshire and other miners at the present time.

That marks the beginning of a decisive change as far as the feelings of our class are concerned. And I’ll add to what several other speakers have said – it takes one victory, one victory only, to profoundly change that mood – to approach flood tide. Because there is a reservoir of hate, of bitterness, in our class at the treatment we’ve received over the course of the last few years.

One victory would imbue confidence in millions of workers, unemployed and employed, women and men, black and white, to struggle against the Tories and this system.


But in the Broad Left we also have to draw the lessons of the past. If we talk about the miners and the victories of ’72 and ’74 we have to recognise how that took place. That they took place out of unofficial strikes in ’70 and ’71 in Yorkshire and South Wales in an effort by the rank and file to push the leadership into a fight. And those rank and file struggles, which were defeated, altered the balance of opinion inside the NUM to conduct the 1972 and 1974 battles and out of them the victories that the miners obtained.

It’s that relationship between the struggles of the ranks to change the opinions and actions of the leadership, and the fact that when the leadership calls for action it obtains a much bigger response than we can ever get as rank and file militants – that’s the struggle that we are in at the present time.

I’d go further. One of the things that saddens those of us who have spent so much of our lives sat in smoke filled conferences of the unions and the Labour Party over the years, and which the Broad Left has to understand, is that for too long we have used ourselves as an electoral machine, to get this person or that person onto an executive, as general secretary or leader.

We have to have troops on the ground. No matter how good a socialist Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill or anyone else may be, unless they are held responsible to the rank and file of this movement, because they are under enormous pressures, and anyone in the leadership suffers those pressures, the possibility exists of them bending and giving way in difficult situations.

The demand of the Broad Left is for the maximum amount of unity in action, for that we must hold our leaders responsible and accountable ...

Worker’s moods

I want to finish with one little story to pick up just after where I started my contribution.

When the dockers were arrested in the early 70’s, that was a dispute that started as an inter-union dispute, the Tories and press are trying to make the miners’ strike out to be an inter-union dispute, but in the 1970’s that dispute was between transport workers and dockers. But when they brought the law in, and the police, and the capitalist courts – that unified our class. That’s what led to the official solicitor being brought in and the victory at that time.

Now in an English Electric factory on the East Lancashire road in Liverpool, there was a very good shop stewards’ committee at that time. They heard on the radio that the dockers had been arrested and they held a shop stewards meeting.

They got into the stewards room and discussed it, and they said, “Well they won’t come out, I don’t think we’ll get ‘em out”. But they decided by a majority that whether the workers in that factory would come out or not, they had to call them out.

And they came out of the stewards room and whole factory was empty. The workers had already gone.

I’d say to you that it may not be this month, it may not be next month; but in the next six or twelve months, even the optimists in this hall will be surprised at the response our class will give – if they get any sort of leadership whatsoever.

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Last updated: 3 June 2016