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Ted Heath: the Tory premier who took on the workers and lost
THE DEATH of former Tory prime minister Edward Heath has produced a series of gushing eulogies celebrating his 'one-nation', 'caring' premiership. Most workers, however, will remember him as the vicious Tory leader who attacked the trade union movement in the interests of big business.
When Ted Heath was elected as Prime Minister in 1970, he wanted to restore the profits of the capitalists which were being squeezed as the the post-war economic boom came to an end. In order to achieve that, he decided to confront the trade union movement. He even said that he'd "face up" to a general strike.
One of his first policies was the "no lame ducks" policy, where any company that was on the brink of bankruptcy was left alone. (Although, in 1971, he was compelled to save Rolls Royce by nationalising it in 24 hours!). This laissez-faire policy led to unemployment going above the one million mark, the first time since the 1930s.
Heath also imposed wage controls and the anti-union Industrial Relations Act, which was introduced to try and shackle the unions.
These new laws didn't stop workers from organising defensive struggles and winning pay rises. In 1971, workers at Upper Clyde Shipbuilding successfully occupied the Glasgow shipyard in protest against proposed job cuts.
In 1972, the first all-out miners' strike since 1926 resulted in a 22% pay rise, way above the going 8% rate. It also saw mass 'flying pickets' of miners, whose action compelled the police to temporarily close the Saltley Gates coal depot in Birmingham.
Further strikes by railworkers, and the release of five dockers imprisoned under the anti-union laws (after a mass movement of workers threatened a general strike), contributed to Heath's downfall.
In 1974, the Heath government again squared up to the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers). Faced with a rising tide of discontent, however, the Heath government was panicked into calling a general election on the theme of 'Who rules - us or the miners?'
Heath lost the election, which saw the return of Harold Wilson's Labour government.
In The Socialist 21 July 2005: