Timeline 1945-68

Submitted by martin on 18 January, 2010 - 4:44 Author: Martin Thomas

Timeline for use with the British working-class history study course.

8 May 1945
"Victory in Europe" Day

26 July 1945
Labour wins the general election by a landslide.

1 January 1947
Britain's coal industry is nationalised

July 1947
Government sets up National Dock Labour Scheme, giving some economic security to dockers and partial union control (but by a very bureaucratic union) over hiring and firing.

15 August 1947
India gains independence from Britain

October 1947
After big arguments in the then-unified British Trotskyist organisation, the RCP, about whether to turn to the Labour Party, which has grown enormously in membership since 1945, or continue to focus more or less solely on the trade-union activity which won the RCP many recruits during World War 2, the Trotskyists agree to divide their forces. A minority led by Gerry Healy join the Labour Party and work there around a paper produced jointly with other left-wingers, Socialist Outlook. The majority, led by Jock Haston, Millie Lee, and Ted Grant, continue to focus on building the RCP outside the Labour Party.

1 January 1948
Railways nationalised

Spring 1948
Labour government announces a wage freeze

22 June 1948
'Empire Windrush' docks at Tilbury carrying nearly 500 Caribbean immigrants to Britain, deliberately recruited to fill low-paid jobs in Britain

5 July 1948
National Health Service established

25 July 1948
Cold war (beginning around 1947) intensifies. Berlin airlift begins after Soviet forces blockade the city

November 1948
Labour government announces "bonfire of [wartime economic] controls"

January 1949
Jock Haston and Millie Lee call on the RCP to dissolve and enter the Labour Party. Ted Grant goes along with them, although he believes the conditions are not right for being in the Labour Party, because he does not think the RCP can be sustained outside the Labour Party without the energy and drive of Haston and Lee. After argument, the RCP dissolves in July 1949, and its members enter the Labour Party to join in the work being led by Healy's group. Haston and Lee go over to reformist politics.

June-July 1949
Labour government uses troops to try to break dock strikes

23 February 1950
Labour wins the general election with a reduced majority

June 1950
Korean War starts: US troops, under the UN banner, confront North Korean Stalinist troops who have invaded pro-US South Korea, British troops are sent to Korea in August 1950. The war ends in July 1953, with Korea partitioned.

Late 1950
A sub-section of the old Haston-Lee-Grant majority of the RCP, led by Tony Cliff, who describe the USSR as state capitalist, are expelled from the Trotskyist group within the Labour Party because they take a stand of supporting neither side in the Korean war. This is the origin of the SWP group of today.

Early 1951
Ted Grant and many of the rest of the old RCP majority are expelled by the Healy-led Trotskyist group within the Labour Party, for opposing the expulsion of the Cliff group. This is the origin of the Militant group of the 1960s-1980s and the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal of today. Healy's loyal group becomes now the biggest and most active Trotskyist group in Britain: it will remain so until it goes mad in the 1970s and eventually implodes in 1985.

February 1951
Labour government has dockers prosecuted for striking under Order 1305, an anti-strike decree "left over" from wartime. Eventually the prosecution is dropped and Order 1305 is repealed in August 1951.

April 1951
Aneurin Bevan and two other ministers resign from the Labour government over prescription charges and military spending. From then through to about 1955 a "Bevanite" left will be strong in the constituency Labour Parties, though the big unions all remain solidly loyal to the Labour leadership and the platform never comes near being defeated at Labour Party conference until 1960.

23 October 1951
Tories return to office. Many socialists expect a quick and drastic Tory counter-offensive against Labour's 1945-8 reforms, but in fact they run a consensus administration. A world capitalist boom of unprecedented force will run through to the late 1960s with only minor wobbles.

1955
Thousands of dockers in the Northern ports break away from the very bureaucratic TGWU to join a minority union, the NASDU ("blue union"). Trotskyists are an active minority in the "blue union"; the CP, still nearly 50,000 strong, supports the TGWU. The NASDU will eventually fail to win recognition from the employers, but remain a force in the Northern ports for decades. From about 1955, through for example the London busworkers' strike of 1958, industrial militancy - low since the defeat of the General Strike in 1926 - gradually increases, though there will not be a national strike in any industry until 1968.

26 May 1955
Conservatives win another general election.

22 September 1955
Commercial television starts

8 May 1956
John Osborne's play 'Look Back in Anger' is staged. Osborne's play and the novels 'Room at the Top' (1957) by John Braine, 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' (1958) by Alan Sillitoe, and 'This Sporting Life' (1960) by David Storey, denounce Britain's culture as materialist, snobbish, and philistine (the authors are dubbed the "Angry Young Men").

5 November 1956
Britain and France invade Egypt after nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Labour Party campaigns against invasion: British troops soon withdraw under pressure from the USA, and hand the Canal back to Egypt.

Late 1956
Big crisis in the British Communist Party after Khrushchev's speech denouncing Stalin, earlier in the year, and then... Khrushchev's invasion of Hungary to quell the Hungarian workers. About a third of the CP members quit. Some hundreds of ex-CPers are recruited by the Healy group, which now becomes much more visible and active than the tiny Cliff and Grant groups.

6 March 1957
Ghana becomes the first British colony in Africa to gain independence; others will follow rapidly.

8 October 1959
Conservatives under Harold Macmillan win their third general election in a row, under the slogan "you've never had it so good". Labour Party leaders respond to the defeat by saying that Labour needs to shed the "cloth cap" image (i.e. identification with the working class). But an attempt to ditch Clause Four fails. A move to expand Labour's activist base by relaunching a national Labour youth movement backfires for the Labour leadership when that youth movement soon becomes lively and dominated by various factions of the revolutionary left (through to the late 1960s).

Early 1960s
* Nuclear disarmament movement becomes very big (the Labour Party youth movement will draw many people from it).
* Revolt in the Labour Party over nuclear disarmament, eventually quelled. The solid right wing domination of the unions has begun to break up, with left-winger Frank Cousins becoming general secretary of the TGWU after two right-wing predecessors die unexpectedly in quick succession. The union leaderships will continue to move to the left into the 1970s. White collar workers such as teachers are becoming more union-minded: first significant teachers' strike is held over London pay weighting in 1968. The Labour Party is still very bureaucratic and tightly-controlled in the early 1960s - Michael Foot is expelled from the Parliamentary Labour Party for voting against the Tory government's military budget - but there are beginnings of new dissent in it, and the regime will loosen up after Harold Wilson becomes leader in 1963.
* Industrial militancy continues to rise: still mostly a matter of unofficial, short, localised strikes, led by shop stewards rather than union officials.
* Britain applies to join the European Union (then called Common Market) but is vetoed by France. The Labour Party opposes the application to join on grounds of preferring economic links with the Commonwealth (ex-Empire). Trotskyists argue for counterposing European workers' unity against both the "join" and "stay out" factions.
* Big expansion of universities (from 1963).

15 October 1964
Labour wins the general election, on a manifesto of reshaping Britain in "the white heat of technological revolution".

February 1965
Vietnam war. which has been rumbling on for some years, escalates, with the US bombing North Vietnam. The movement in Britain and other countries against the Vietnam war is still relatively small affair of the activist left, but will expand into a very big movement in 1967-8.

12 July 1965
Comprehensive schools initiated

1965
Labour government introduces wage controls

8 November 1965
Death penalty abolished

May-July 1966
National seafarers' strike. Labour government denounces the strike leaders and declares a state of emergency. From about this time, discontent with the Labour government, industrial militancy, left-wing radicalisation among young people, and bitter disillusionment with the Labour Party, grow rapidly. Hundreds of thousands of Labour Party members quit or cease attending meetings.

1967
Abortion and homosexuality are legalised

March 1968
Commonwealth Immigration Act: Labour introduces racist controls on immigration to keep out Kenya Asians who had opted for British citizenship on Kenya's independence and now want to use it to escape persecution in Kenya.

January 1969
Labour government publishes White Paper proposing anti-union laws (relatively mild by today's standards). Increasingly, through the 1960s, employers and government have become worried about Britain being "strike-prone". Trade unions oppose the legislation, and eventually the government backs down, after provoking great anger and disillusion.

In 1968, the combination of the French general strike, the Tet offensive by Vietnamese nationalist fighters against the US and its South Vietnamese client regime, and the USSR invasion of Czechoslovakia to quell "socialism with a human face" there, generates a big radicalisation. All the groups of the activist left grow very quickly.