Dave Lyddon claims in his latest contribution to our discussion about the 1972 docks’ strike (Feedback, December SR) that the TUC threat to call a general strike was not key to the release of the Pentonville Five, that the crucial factor securing their release was growing unofficial action in which 250,000 workers had walked out by the time the Five were released in July 1972.
Clearly the TUC would not have acted without the unofficial strikes, but to describe the threat of a General Strike as “icing on the cake” underestimates its significance.
The House of Lords had backed the haulage companies in refusing to release the Five. The inherently conservative TUC General Council were, of course, pushed into calling a one-day general strike, but the idea of perhaps up to 12 million workers on strike terrified the ruling class and the Tory government.
Rank-and-file workers must never rely on the trade union leaders, but the support of the latter generates confidence, and adds legitimacy to their action.
It was for this reason that, following the dockers’ release, Socialist Worker demanded that the TUC call a general strike against the fines on the TGWU, and in order to defeat the Industrial Relations Act under which the dockers had been jailed (29 July 1972).