History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951 - Vol. 4

By Noreen Branson | Go to book overview

15
1947: ECONOMIC CRISIS: THE
START OF THE COLD WAR:
THE COMINFORM

The summer of 1947 saw a serious deterioration in the economic situation. There was a huge balance of payments deficit, followed by a ‘convertibility crisis.’ This arose because when, at the end of the war, the Americans terminated their ‘lease-lend’ arrangements for financial aid to Britain, they had only agreed to a further loan on condition that sterling would be made ‘convertible’ into other currencies by mid-July 1947. So, that month, countries holding sterling balances in Britain began to exchange them for dollars and by mid-August Britain’s dollar deficit had risen astronomically. Convertibility was then suspended. However, to reduce the dollar gap, the government introduced much more stringent rationing of food and petrol; imports were cut and a new period of austerity was ushered in.

Moreover, the government was apparently dithering over its promise to nationalise the steel industry, though this was regarded as fundamental to the recovery of Britain’s manufacturing base. At the 1947 TUC, Jim Gardner, of the Foundry Workers, urged that a Bill for the nationalisation of iron and steel be introduced in the next session, while Les Gregory of the ETU pointed out that, unless this was done, the House of Lords could use delaying tactics. The Foundry Workers resolution was rejected by 4,457,000 votes to 2,360,000.1 But it turned out that Gregory’s apprehensions were justified; the House of Lords was to force postponement of steel nationalisation until July 1950.

In communist eyes the basic reason for the Labour Government’s austerity measures was its refusal to cut defence expenditure. This arose from its foreign and colonial policies. There were still over a million men and women in the armed services. As Communist MP Phil Piratin asserted in the Budget debate in November 1947, the

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