TV Review from the January 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard
This fascinating programme traced the improvement in British workers' living standards achieved through advances in technology over the last 35 years. The film was very effectively put together, showing the 1948 sequences — both original footage and reconstructions — in black and white and those if 1983 in colour. Heinz Wolff, the narrator, acted the two central characters — the lower income worker and the prosperous businessman.
We first saw him entering a typical house of the former in 1948; the tin bath on the outside back wall, 5 amp wiring just sufficient for lighting and the wireless—certainly no electric fires or any of the appliances we now take for granted. Instead of a vacuum cleaner, the carpet sweeper; instead of the 'fridge, the ventilated larder cupboard; a bicycle the only personally owned means of transport. We then switched to the businessman getting out of his car, going into his centrally heated home, and switching on the rather primitive television set. His wife is in their all-electric kitchen with 'fridge, washing machine and food mixer. The maid uses the Hoover and does the ironing.
What a contrast in 1983! The "working class" home now boasts all mod cons, including colour TV and video (Wolff does not say how much of this evidence of "affluence" is owned by the worker and how much by the HP company), and ownership of a car is almost taken for granted.
On the surface the differences have been greatly eroded. However, Wolff then points out that this rise in living standards has been made possible by the great strides in technology. The days when production was simple (and labour intensive) and most of us could do our own domestic repairs have given way to high technology, labour savings and the inability of most of us to understand "how things work". This, incidentally, with the high cost of getting any sort of repairs done, leads to built-in obsolescence resulting in more frequent replacement purchases, which is good for business.
Wolff then asks: What shall we do about the unemployed to make them again feel useful members of society? From a non-socialist, his answer is quite remarkable. To paraphrase him: in a sensible society we would turn them into caring people; we need teachers, nurses, people to help look after the elderly, handicapped and infirm. There is a multitude of worthwhile (but not profitable) ways of working, but he ends his programme with the words: "That future is further away than we think".
We say it need not be. If the programme made viewers aware that there is indeed a solution to the problems of capitalism and that advances in technology should benefit all and not just increase the profits of the few, then we are one small step nearer to that future—the establishment of socialism. Then work will be judged only by its usefulness to the community and workers will not be forced to be idle, feeling useless and unwanted, because no profit can be accrued from their work by the employer.