Editorial from the May 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
May Day 1993 and what is the main problem facing the organised Trade Union movement? Unemployment, job insecurity and their effect on wage levels. Just as it always has been on a regularly recurring basis.
Unemployment is now heading for 3 million again, as it did ten years ago. But this time we are not seeing marches and demonstrations demanding “the right to work”. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
Most people know quite well that there is no such thing as a “right to work”, and so not much point in demanding it. If an employer can make a profit out of employing us (or thinks he can) then we can get a job. But if companies start making losses, they put us on short time or make us redundant, or even close down altogether. “Rights” don’t come into it for workers. The employers own the factory or the shop or the office. If they decide to close down, that is their right—the right of ownership.
Because we have no control over the work we do, most jobs are pretty unsatisfying, or even dirty or dangerous. It is not the work we want—it’s the money, the price our employers pay to hire us. Without money we can’t live. We can’t buy the things we need to keep ourselves and our families. Most people have to go to work to get money, whether they are shopfloor workers, office workers, teachers or managers. Some don’t have to—those who own the workplace. They live off the profits—unearned income.
The present economic system is based on capital being accumulated and invested for the purpose of making profits. Unemployment never falls to zero, but periodically it rises alarmingly. Slumps are inevitable and necessary every so often. Business booms until too much capital is chasing limited profit, and then collapses. Large firms make losses. Small firms go bankrupt. Governments are powerless to prevent it. Economists fail to explain it.
Economists are paid by governments to find cures for slumps—but they always fail. Just as governments always fail when they promise to cure poverty, bad housing, crime and unemployment. All these things are part of the essential nature of capitalism. They are a direct consequence of a small section of the population owning, or controlling through the state, all the land, mines, transport, factories, offices and other places of work, and employing the great majority of us only when there is profit to be made.
Capitalism has played its part in developing technology (at great cost in human life and misery). But it is now a barrier to progress and full production to meet needs. In fact it distorts technology, as in nuclear weapons—a threat that is still spreading as more and more states (the latest being North Korea and South Africa) join the nuclear club.
Unemployment occurs because the system of employment exists. Millions of us are tied up in it. We may feel powerless, but we are not. We do all the work in society, throughout the world. We run it from top to bottom—for the employers. When they say production must stop, it stops.
What we must do is take over and run industry for people, not profit—for welfare, not warfare. We must organise together to take democratic political action to dispossess the employers. Then booms and slumps will stop. Then their nation-states and frontiers and wars will fall into disuse. We shall run industry and agriculture and transport for everyone, democratically. This is socialism. It is the only future worth working for.