The Political Notes column from the December 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard
“The Unions Are Angry” was a headline in the Guardian (15.10.80). Well, we all feel angry at times when things are going badly. The anger in this case was directed against ICI, the largest industrial concern in the country, who had announced they were going to lay off another 4,500 workers in their fibres division. This is of course very sad news for the workers concerned and their families. But what good does it do for the unions to be angry? No doubt King Canute was angry when the waves refused to obey his orders, but who cared? In the present case, the report tells us that ICI had lost £100 million in this division in the last five years and had actually lost a further £38 million in the last six months. No firm can carry on in the face of such figures without courting bankruptcy. And just in case anyone imagines that this problem is peculiar to the workers and management in this country, the report also mentioned that another country — Italy — which is very advanced in textiles, is losing in its fibres industry the trifling sum of half a million lire every minute. It is likely that synthetic fibres have produced synthetic anger among union leaders. They should know by now that not even genuine anger can make a scrap of difference to the normal workings of capitalism in one of its periodic crises.
What does he mean?
The words of political pundits are often as meaningless as those of the Oracle of Delphi. No doubt that helps to veil their ignorance. Here is Peter Jenkins of the Guardian (29.10.80): “The mix of the economy ought not to be an important question. A variety of mixes have succeeded in post-war Europe ranging from the dirigiste (but non-socialist) French version to the market (but social democratic) German model.” It seems to us that the spread of this “range” is from the same to the same. Just your ordinary capitalism. And what does our pundit mean by “succeeded”? Who succeeds? The million unemployed in West Germany? The million and a half in France? Still, he has managed to stumble across one spot of truth that French capitalism is non-socialist. It may even be dirigiste, only I neither know nor care what that is supposed to mean.
Last month on French television, Michel Rocard of the French “Socialist” Party, so-called, announced that he would be contesting the presidency. Rocard, mayor of Conflans St. Honore, was educated at the elite National School of Administration.. Mitterand, his party leader, will also stand, but the cautious political manoeuvring between them is typical of the sordid power struggles of capitalism’s leaders, even if these men have the audacity to call themselves socialists. Mitterand made one statement suggesting he would not stand, and another suggesting he would. Rocard appealed for patriot votes by accusing Giscard d’Estaing’s policy of renouncing the great role France has played in history. “If he can get enough Gaullists, plus some disgruntled Communists, plus the Ecologists”, the Guardian (21.10.80) explained, “he might win”. Rocard claims to want to “get rid of the deep inequality that spoils and dishonours our society”, and he is therefore bidding for one of the most flagrantly privileged, almost regal offices that capitalism has to offer the politicians who ride roughshod on the backs of the working class. In contrast, socialists have consciously decided what they want and how to get it, and are able to organise democratically, without leaders, to that end. These confused clowns can keep their hypocritical circus acts.
“Farmers have been paid between 2p and 5p a pound since the summer for fruit and vegetables which have been officially destroyed . . . The produce destroyed represents only a small part of a British food “mountain” which is growing fast as the EEC faces record crops and poor demand. The Home-grown Cereals Authority said yesterday that it expected the British share or the Community grain “mountain” to rise from less than 300,000 tonnes to 750,000 tonnes. . . Of the 12,204 tonnes of fish taken off the market this year, most has been ground into fish meal to be fed to farm animals, the rest has been used in petfood. Britain’s official food “mountain” in in tonnes: barley, 246.695; butter, 26,380; beef, 20,287; oilseed rape, 3,527; wheat, 3,152; milk powder, 2,383; rye, 300. Source: Stocks now held by the intervention board.” (The Times 10.10.80.)
As capitalism staggers on from crisis to crisis these “surpluses” are the natural result of the system of producing food to be sold in the world market at a profit. Roughly one third of the world’s population is malnourished, with millions starving to death. It is not profitable to satisfy demand which is not supported by money; the “demand” referred to in the quotation above is potent demand, from people who can “afford” food. Somebody starving to death might want food, but that does not count as demand in a system which operates on the basis of the profits of those who monopolise the food resources of the world. The alternative is a society where those resources will be commonly owned and used directly to satisfy all human needs and wants without the restrictive barrier of the monetary, profit system which can only ever work to the benefit of a minority.
During the debate on democracy in the Labour Party Conference at Blackpool, there were certain people—called “fraternal observers”—given passes to watch the proceedings. Now these observers were doing their fraternal observing of a debate on democracy while a strike was taking place in Poland against the corrupt, totalitarian government of the Communist Party. Whose representatives were the “fraternal observers”? Not a single voice was raised in the Conference suggesting there might be something wrong in giving special invitations to these people. No doubt the leaders of the Labour Party (as of the equally obnoxious TUC) will expect similar red-carpet treatment in Warsaw in due course. From the oppressors of the working class.