Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Running Commentary: Doleful story? (1981)

The Running Commentary Column from the February 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Doleful story?
It’s a funny thing, the way the Socialist Party of Great Britain has always said that there are two classes in society. After all, isn’t the recession hitting us all, whoever we are?

Take the Board of Directors of Spillers, for example. Their company was recently bought out by Dalgety, the international agricultural trading group, for £70 million and all the directors lost their jobs. They’ll probably be queueing up for the dole.

After all, look at their pay-offs. Ex-chairman Michael Vernon got £140,000. He had been earning £47,000 a year together with the use of a £155,000 company house in Paulton Square, Chelsea which he has now bought himself. He also has a 500-acre arable farm in Hampshire, and has recently become a director of Strong and Fisher.

At the time of the Spillers takeover he sold 266,800 of his 310,000 shares for £115,000. Three other directors each got “redundancy payments” of over £100,000 and the total paid to the Board was £1,700,000. It’s a terrible thing, this recession, isn’t it.


Eton racket
School for many young people is a shabby uniform, grimy surroundings and being constantly made to feel you are nobody special. It means being well trained to passively accept a lifetime of being employed and living a second-rate existence.

Not all schools however prepare their pupils for such a life sentence. If you attend Eton, to take one example, you will learn how to behave as a fully fledged parasite living in security and luxury at the expense of those who produce and administer all the wealth in society. You will be conditioned to feel a superior person, a different caste of person from the ordinary state school blighter.

You will have a special wardrobe of clothes for different occasions at school and acquire a peculiar public school banter and a refined accent. While most people at school are feeling great anxiety or despair at the bleak prospects for getting a job as rising unemployment particularly threatens school-leavers, not all school students have got reason to worry.

At Eton and places like it you eat drink and learn and sleep with with the sons of scroungers (aristocrats, politicians) and with your future livelihood not dependent on a visit to the Job Centre, you get friendly with the people who you will one day be in control with.

In a recent survey conducted on pupils at Eton (results published in the Eton Chronicle) three out of every four questioned believed they are simply a cut above everyone else; 74 per cent agreed that “Etonians could be said to have certain features that, for what ever reasons, set them apart from others’’. On the surface you might think those special features were arrogance, lofty turns of phrase and feeling at ease wearing a white bow tie or shooting wild animals.

More accurately what sets these parasites apart from the rest of us is their privileged economic position in society. You need the £12,000 odd for fees before you get to go to Eton. It’s not an unequal education system which produces a two-class society, but a two-class society which produces one sort of school for scroungers and one sort for the wealth producers.


A matter of taste
Many doctors have turned down a request by the insurance brokers K T Jarrett of Bristol to display, in their waiting rooms posters and prospectuses of a new insurance scheme offering cover against the birth of a handicapped child. A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: ’’It is particularly tasteless to expect a doctor to congratulate a patient on her pregnancy and then to point to an insurance scheme like this.”

Tasteless it may be, but the quest for profit rarely respects taste. In fact a lot of the time the quest for profit ignores a lot more than taste. It can for instance ignore lengthy, but prudent, research on the safety of a medicine, as the owners of Distillers (the producers of Thalidomide) will testify. The company which exported blood-stained military uniform pieces from Vietnam (often off dead bodies) to sell in America as novelty fashion wear was not exactly over concerned about “taste”.

Neither was the man who recently set up a binocular vending stall at the bottom of the high-rise block from which a man was threatening suicide. Capitalism is a society in which the dog-cat-dog ethic and the drive for profit is the order of the day.


Surplus and Starvation
World Commodity Outlook in 1981: Food Feedstuffs and Beverages, the latest report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, records a recent sharp fall in world wide wheat production. No. not because of drought, nor seed shortages, nor floods, lack of willing workers nor insectal pests. As more than a few people are at this moment dying, slowly, from starvation the reason for the falling wheat output warrants pursuit.

The reason is only half slated by the report, which warns that the governments of most developed countries have concentrated on “holding back the creation of surpluses” rather than on maximising production. The reason for the “holding back” is the same reason the USA Federal government has had in paying Northern American farmers to stop producing wheat, and even to burn wheat already harvested; it is also the same reason for Brazilian coffee being dumped in the ocean and the reason for the EEC”s mountains of butter and lakes of wine.

The reason is that these things, like all others today, are being produced to sell for the profit of the industry-owners. If they decide to keep back or destroy quantities of a certain product to stop its price from falling (to keep profits up) then that’s exactly what will be done. For as long as we allow a minority of people to own and control the resources of the earth and the places of production they will have these operated only for profit and actual human need will be ignored.

And human need isn’t only to do with those starving creatures in the so-called third world it’s also every one of your unfulfilled wants.


Strong lobbies
On a similar theme, the US Department of Health and Human Services has issued a report revealing that contaminants found in all commercial PCP (pentachlorophenol) caused liver cancer in rats and that there was a danger that it could similarly affect humans. The wood preservation and pest control company Rentokil has issued a statement to try to diffuse any anxiety, as it is using this deadly chemical in several of its products. Although the US authorities are now considering the withdrawal of PCP’s licence there will be a strong lobby, backed by the comfortable owners of Rentokil, to retain the chemical’s legality and to keep those profits flowing in unhindered by safety precaution obstacles.

That these “strong lobbies" from owners of industry work, is borne out by the recent success of the Ford Motor Company. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had ordered that 16,000,000 cars produced at Fords between 1970 and 1979 |be recalled and modified with a safety feature to stop them suddenly moving off in reverse. It was alleged that 98 people had already been killed in accidents attributable to the defect. The owners of the company were not entirely keen on this idea as the cost of the recall would have been about $100 million, and the company was already heavily in debt. Now after three years of wheeling and dealing between Ford “negotiators’’ and government officials the government has decided not to enforce the NHTSA ruling and the murderous machines are still on the loose
Gary Jay

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