Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Observations: Page 3 and Hattersley's capitalism (1986)

The Observations Column from the May 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Page Three
Labour MP Clare Short recently attempted to introduce a Bill to ban Page Three nudes from the tabloid press, arguing that they contribute to a climate in which women are held in contempt. The arguments behind the Bill are not clear: is Clare Short suggesting that Page Three nudes cause women's ill-treatment by men, or are they merely a reflection of popularly held, if abhorrent, attitudes? If, as is more probable, it is the latter, then censorship is likely to create a black market for soft porn (in addition to that for the hard stuff) rather than eliminate it altogether.

However, the rights and wrongs of the Bill itself are perhaps less interesting than the way in which it was received by the predominantly male MPs in the House of Commons. There was almost no attempt to offer anything like a cogent argument against the Bill - indeed it would have been difficult to do so above the cacophony of puerile sniggers and titters. The best in the way of argument that was mustered was one Tory MP who opposed the Bill on the grounds that one of his pleasures in life was to sit on the Tube and watch the faces of people "reading" Page Three of the Sun. Well whatever turns you on, I suppose.

Unfortunately the attitudes of such MPs are part of the same problem that Clare Short was attempting to confront through her misguided attempt at censorship - double standards. On the one hand, titillating pictures of women that reinforce distorted ideas about sexuality on Page Three and on the other moral outrage at sexual attacks by "monsters" makes the headlines on the front page. Legislation can't change these kinds of attitudes - especially when they are held by the legislators themselves.


Con trick
In what is transparently a tasteless electioneering stunt the Conservative Party has selected (the initial consonant should be retained) its first black parliamentary candidate (Observer, 6 April 1986). His name is Uncle Tom - oops! sorry! - John David Taylor, a barrister, and he has been told off to get in there and fight Birmingham. Perry Bar. This constituency contains Handsworth, whose mutinous black and coloured inhabitants are presumably what the Tory worthies had in mind when deciding what sort of a victim to sacrifice. For the constituency hardly represents the most fertile soil for conservatism: Jeff Rooker, Labour's housing spokesman, currently holds the seat with a 7.000 majority. Clearly, the Tories don't run all that much risk of seeing their unlikely stalking-horse actually elected.

And what does the candidate think? His first, and most urgent, act is to distance himself from Bernie Grant, down in London and his observations concerning the racist policing of Tottenham's Broadwater Farm. Mind you, Taylor had better watch his back: he has apparently taken on the odd police prosecution brief. This has to qualify him for a Special Branch manila folder at the very least, if not for a yard or two of microfiche and the Police National Computer.

In one major respect, however, there is precious little to choose between the two candidates. They are neither of them even remotely contemplating the only answer to the massive and intractable problems of our class - the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system. So. should Bernie end up as Home Secretary and John as Lord Chancellor then no doubt they'll discover they have much in common after all as they collaborate over that vintage champers at the Lord Mayor's Banquet.


No choice
As a result of a ruling at the European Court of Justice in February, women in Britain are to have the legal right to stay at work until they are 65, the same age as men. 300.000 women reach 60 each year; how many will welcome this change? Ian Lang, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment said of the new rule:
This is a step towards the concept of a decade of retirement with greater individual choice, which has long been government policy.
But how many women will see this as a real choice? What is it a choice between? Most women workers, if they opt to retire at 60 despite the new ruling, will face the rest of their lives scratching an existence on a pension. supplementary benefit and whatever they may have managed to save during their years of wage labour. Given that grim prospect they may very well prefer to continue working for a further five years. But it is quite likely that at the age of 60 some at least will be finding work increasingly physically tiring and would prefer to have a rest by giving up altogether or reducing the number of hours they work. So the choice is constrained by economic necessity and a lack of flexibility towards working hours, and hardly represents a choice at all.

In a socialist society, work will be fitted to individual needs: elderly people will, like everyone else in society, be able to decide for themselves when to work and when not to work in accordance with their health, strength, and needs for companionship and fulfilling and creating activity.


Hattersley’s capitalism
"People's Capitalism" is a slogan that seems to be receiving endorsement from the Tories. Labour and Alliance alike. If the "property-owning democracy" was a ruse to persuade workers to "buy" their own houses, then "People's Capitalism" is intended to persuade us to buy shares in the companies that exploit us. The Alliance has consistently advocated workers buying shares but now Roy Hattersley is also jumping on the band-waggon. He said recently-.
The extension of employee share-holding .  .  . is wholly consistent with the aims of socialism . . . It is also in the interests of the economic success and social cohesion of this country.
(Observer, 16 March)
To say that workers buying shares is "wholly consistent with the aims of socialism" is tantamount to saying that capitalism is consistent with the aims of socialism - clearly nonsensical. However workers owning shares is consistent with the Labour Party's aspirations to political power. "Peoples Capitalism" is obviously thought to be a big vote-catcher - hence its endorsement by the three main political parties.

Persuading workers to part with their savings to buy shares in the companies which employ them is yet another capitalist con-trick designed to persuade us that, because we have a couple of hundred pounds' worth of shares, we have a stake in the present system which is worth defending, that it is worth our while to work for lower wages and not take industrial action to improve or maintain our conditions of work.

Owning a few shares in a company over which you have no control and to which you are still forced to sell your labour power does not make workers part of the capitalist class nor does it give us interests in common with the bosses. 

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