Editorial from the November 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard
Make no mistake about it. The Labour government is out to cut our standard of living. To be sure, they claim this is necessary so that standards can rise in the future. But we need take no notice of this. After all we’ve heard it so many times before from Labour and Tory alike. First it was Cripps, then Gaitskell, then Butler, then Thorneycroft, then Selwyn Lloyd and now Wilson. But the promised prosperous futures with steadily rising living standards have never appeared and, of course, they never will. You don’t have to be a Socialist to be sceptical on this point.
What the government is trying to do is to freeze wages and salaries at July 20 levels and allow prices to rise to offset “tax increases and import price rises”. If this works, our standard of living will have been cut and more of the wealth we produce will be available for profitable investment.
It’s bad enough to have this attack on our living standards and to be intimidated by the “reserve powers” of the Prices and Incomes Act. But we have also to take Minister of Labour Gunter telling us that this is what we deserve as we have been “dishonest and thriftless” and clever Dick Crossman and the New Statesman telling us that this is a step towards Socialism.
It is surprising that there are still people who think that trade unionists and workers generally have something to gain from backing Labour. Perhaps this is because of the skilful way the Labour leaders have exploited their followers’ fears of a return to the mass unemployment of the inter-war years. They have alleged that the Tories deliberately create unemployment and misery for workers while they swear, hand on heart, that they will never allow this to happen again. But it will, they claim, if workers don’t work harder; if employers don’t get “a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”; unless- “each hour worked is filled with sixty minutes’ worth of work well done”.
These Labour appeals for harder work have fallen on stoney ground. Absenteeism thrives and the seamen took a month or so off work just because the shipowners wouldn’t pay them more or improve their working conditions. This failure has produced revealing reactions in some of the Labour Leaders. Now Gunter calls us dishonest. Last year he was shouting about “far too much indiscipline in every part of the nation”. Presumably we can take it that Labour is out to discipline us. As Wilson is fond of saying, the job of a government is to govern. Precisely—and governing involves keeping us in our place as honest, thrifty, hard-working and docile workers.
The Labour Party has always had a brutal streak in it. Since the war Labour governments have shown themselves more ready than the Tories to use the power of the state to discipline us. Remember that it was they who used troops as blacklegs. Remember that it was they who tried the last wage freeze. And remember that it was their Attorney General who prosecuted strikers in 1951.
Labour Party members accepted these events last time. Most will probably accept the same things this time. And this is where the talk of Socialism comes in. At election times Socialism is a dirty word among Labour candidates. But when they have to put over their policies to the party faithful the leaders brush up the speeches of their youth and declaim about Socialism. Generally they take the Tory view of Socialism—that it is whatever the Labour Party does. But surely few, even of the hard-core Labour men, can be taken in by the specious arguments put over by the editor of the New Statesman on September 16. Under the headline “How Labour Blundered into Socialism”, he wrote of the openly anti-union Prices and Incomes Act: “Prices and incomes regulation . . . may be a foundling; but it has true socialist blood in its veins and. properly nurtured, is likely to grow into a powerful champion of social progress.”
If this is Socialism people are right to want none of it. But it is not Socialism or anything like it. Socialism means a democratic world community in which the means of social life are owned in common so that they can be used to satisfy human needs. What the New Statesman editor is talking about is not Socialism but state capitalism which, as the example of Russia shows, has nothing to offer us.