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

By Noreen Branson | Go to book overview

18
TRADE UNION ACTIVITIES:
ATTACKS FROM THE RIGHT
1948–9

The growing influence of party members in the trade unions was a matter of much concern to the right-wing Labour leaders. On 21 December 1947 they launched a campaign to undermine this influence. A circular from Morgan Phillips, Secretary of the Labour Party, was sent out to every affiliated organisation. ‘Now is the time’ it said ‘to go out on a great campaign against communist intrigue and infiltration inside the Labour movement’. ‘It would be a tragedy’ it continued ‘If the communists, who have been rejected time and time again by a free vote of the electors, were to win political power and influence through the back door of trade union branch meetings.’

The circular accused communists of ‘slavishly following the Cominform doctrine, which has described Attlee and Bevin as “traitors” and “lackeys” ‘. Alleging that communists ‘blatantly exploit legitimate grievances for political purposes’, it suggested that ‘in recent years the communists have gained an influence inside certain trade unions out of all proportion to their real strength.’ The explanation for this, according to Phillips, was that communists ‘thrive on apathy.’ ‘When large numbers of trade unionists stay away from their meetings, the communists begin to take charge.’ The circular exhorted Labour Party members to play a more active pan inside their trade unions. ‘An aroused and active trade union movement is our best safeguard.’

Phillips’ circular was received with delight in the Conservative Press. For once the Labour Party, the subject of constant attacks in the newspapers, had gained Conservative approval.

One of the most absurd suggestions in the circular was that communists had ‘infiltrated’ the trade unions. ‘I “infiltrated” the miners’ union when I was 16 years old,’ declared communist William

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