This paper draws on the biography of Sam Watson, a miners' leader in the North East of England, to examine the ways in which power relations operated within the British labour movement in the forties and fifties. At that time the Marshall Plan and the concern by the US government to control the spread of communism in Europe provided a critical backdrop with the CIA's labor attaché programme providing links between the AFL and the CIOand the British TUC. Recent research has identified the significant role played in the development of these arrangements by Watson.
The reliance of the Labour Party on the networks of national, regional and local trade unions has not been a central concern of students of this period. Certainly in accounts of the Marshall Plan, national figures like Ernest Bevin predominate. The “unveiling” here of Watson suggests the possibility of more fruitful investigations on a wider canvass. His relationship with the US mission in itself raises questions as to the social and political processes that made it possible for a middle ranking trade union official to occupy such a significant position of power and influence.
The article draws on archival research and, most significantly, upon interviews conducted by the authors in the late seventies with key trade union officals and polticians. It explores the different ways that Watson dealt with communism and with members of the Communist Party, and the key role he played during critical struggles within the Labour Party. The detail of the “insider” accounts reveals the complex ways in which power was performed across and within different arenas – in North East England as regional secretary of the NUM; in London on the national executive committees of the Labour Party and NUM; and abroad as a member, then Chair, of the Labour Party's International Committee.