From the April 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard
Walter Goldsmith, Director General of the Institute of Directors, did not like the fact that the Thatcher government averted, at least for the time being, the threat of a countrywide coal strike. He commented (Guardian, 20/2/81): “The events of the last few days have reduced the . . . government’s economic policies to a shambles . . .They have caved in on all fronts . . .They are . . . reinforcing trade union power”. Well, isn’t this jolly hard cheese! Here are the directors, rubbing their hands gleefully in expectation of the miners being put in their place, only to find the contest called off at the last minute! Unfortunately for the directors, and those who think like them, the capitalists cannot live as capitalists without the workers, from whom they extract the surplus value from which their profits come. Consequently, when these confrontations arise, concessions sometimes have to be made if the cost to the capitalists is less than that of a stoppage of production.
At times indeed employers and governments can be faced by quite awkward decisions. This was recognised by the Daily Telegraph, in an editorial (20/2/81): “A strike would have been grievously harmful to the coal industry and to the nation.” (By “nation” they of course mean the capitalist class.) However the Telegraph also looked forward to a possible confrontation later, when the government might be better placed. As was pointed out in a letter to the same newspaper the following day, coal can stand up to even severe outdoor exposure. Capitalist priorities are the deciding factor. Food, fuel, transport and raw materials are all vital commodities and workers employed in their production usually have some bargaining power, particularly if stocks are low. On the other hand hospital workers, for example, have very little going for them.
As for the directors, their role in the capitalist economy is not so vital. They ought not to be surprised when, despite financial backing which they receive from ruling class quarters, governments ignore their opinions when it comes to the crunch.
E. C. Edge