Workers Party Logo


July Conference: Herrings and potatoes

The Workers Party is holding a Day Conference on 1st July to discuss how to rebuild British industry. The Conference is for Members Only and invited guests. In the run up to Conference we are publishing a number of pieces submitted for the purposes of stimulating discussion around the theme of reviving British industry, the challenges of AI and automation and the role of vocational education.

This article has been submitted by Andrew Wright.

Industrial struggle has shaped Britain

Once upon a time Britain used to be famous for its heavy industry.  Industry was heavy back then.  After all, Great Britain had invented the Industrial Revolution.  Britain had invented Great Britain.  Great Britain had invented Jeremy Bentham, Isambard Kingdom Brunel and, most important of all, Great Britain had invented Adam Smith.

Adam Smith had reinvented capitalism; or rather he believed he had reinvented capitalism.  Only this time, according to Adam, capitalism possessed an invisible hand of benevolence. 

Over time, Adam Smith’s invisible hand became Margaret Thatcher’s all too visible iron hand of industrial destruction.

Heavy industrialization produced a heavily industrialised urban working class, which was required to do something with its hands.  A sinister man named Karl Marx observed all this, and wrote eloquently about it; he wrote of workers being in chains and of having nothing more to lose but those chains. Karl Marx had reinvented communism; or rather he believed he had reinvented communism. In actuality, communism had already been invented by a man from Wigan named Gerrard Winstanley during the English Civil Wars of the 1640’s. 

What was gained by painfully slow degree was trade union representation for the working class, which the all too visible hands of Margaret Thatcher were only too eager to deliberately destroy.

Great Britain had grown great on the power of iron, coal and steel. Gritty power; sweated into existence by the urbanised working class; imperial power; capitalist imperialist power.

These were the industries deliberately and ideologically destroyed by Thatcher, in order to destroy the largest of the trade unions representing the urbanised working class; to deliberately create mass unemployment – which was funded by revenue from North Sea oil; then to import, firstly from Poland, then from China, cheap coal and steel.  This reliance on cheap imports continues to the present day.

Essentially the modern Britain we now live in is a direct consequence of the industrial war of 1914 – 18. The war itself was a direct consequence of the Industrial Revolution. The only permanent upgrade in social and political development has been in more and more sophisticated electronic gadgetry and our relationship with that gadgetry.

Modern life is simply a continuation of the past.  These facts should always be borne in mind when thinking about “modern” Britain.

The British economy is dominated by services industries.  These include retail, hospitality, professional services, business administration and finance.  The four main sectors of activity are agriculture, construction, production and services.

Services are the largest part of the economy, which stands at 82% of output.

The four highest exports in terms of value in million GBP are

1: precious metal. £32,113.

2: crude oil. £28,805.

3: mechanical power generators. £27,810.

4: medicinal and pharmaceutical. £25,388.

Take away all this, and Great Britain would essentially be a small island in the middle of the North Sea, subsisting – as George Orwell once wrote – on a diet of herrings and potatoes.

(This article is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Tony Benn).

Give us your thoughts...