Thursday, March 24, 2016

Anti-strike record (1997)

Book Review from the December 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

British Trade Unions 1945-1995. by Chris Wrigley (Manchester University Press. £12.99)

This textbook, aimed at students, is essentially a collection of extracts from trade union, government and Labour and Conservative party documents of the time.

After the war and up until at least the end of the 1960s there was more or less full employment in Britain. This seller's market for labour power put the unions in a good bargaining position, but under the Attlee post-war Labour government the unions' leaders chose not to take advantage of this. In fact strikes were illegal under this government which is supposed to have done so much for the working class.

When after 1951 workers, especially at shopfloor level, began to exploit the situation, governments threw their weight behind employers by adopting "pay pauses" and "wage restraint”. At the same time the media launched a campaign against shop stewards as well as in the film I'm All Right Jack with Peter Sellers playing the villain's role.

In the 60s and 70s the Wilson and Callaghan Labour governments were just as bad as the Macmillan and Heath Tory governments. Wilson imposed a legally-binding wage freeze in 1966 and planned to bring in anti-strike legislation as outlined in In Place of Strife. Heath brought in the notorious Industrial Relations Act under which 5 dockers were sent to jail (and released in the face of mass demonstrations).

Then came Thatcher. Eight separate pieces of anti-strike legislation were introduced over the period 1980-1995—which the present Labour government has no intention of repealing—but this was kicking the unions when they were already down: by 1979 the postwar boom was over and. with unemployment at over one million and rising, the seller's market for labour power had disappeared.

All this is documented in this book but outside of any theoretical framework. There is no understanding that, while employers generally welcome unions as stable and more or less representative partners with whom to negotiate over the price and conditions of the sale of labour power, because wage-labour is the source of their profits they don't want things to go too far and that it is the government's role to help ensure that this does not happen.
Adam Buick

English republic (1997)

Book Review from the December 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

Inventing a Republic: The political culture of the English Commonwealth, 1649-1653. by Sean Kelsey. (Manchester University Press, 1997)

The defenders of the status quo will always try and kid us that nothing much ever changes. Britain, it is said, has never undergone drastic change and has for example an unbroken history of monarchy. Yet the facts of history are otherwise. Over a century before the French revolution. England underwent a bloody civil war which ended with the execution of the king. This revolution removed bureaucratic impediments to the development of capitalism and from 1649 to 1660 England was a republic.

This book is a defence of the "Rump" parliament of 1649-1653 against charges that it was inefficient and corrupt. The Rump was dissolved by Oliver Cromwell, claims Kelsey, "largely in order to prevent the successful transition to an electorally mandated free state in which the commander-in-chief of the armed forces would remain little more than an important employee of the state, albeit the most important one." That may have been so. but there were other factors at work. At Putney, in 1647, Cromwell corrected the Levellers who demanded votes for soldiers, saying that they had not fought for that, but for the limitation of the royal prerogative, the right to parliamentary government and "freedom of trading to get money to get estates by". That being so, it would have made an interesting start to an investigation, but Kelsey does not pursue it. For a more balanced and realistic explanation of the causes and consequences of the English civil war readers are referred to the writings of Christopher Hill.
Lew Higgins

Obituaries: F. Kraske & Betty King (1946)

F. Kraske at the SPGB's first Annual Conference.
Obituaries from the January 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard

Death of Comrade Kraske
Comrade F. Kraske, one of the small but enthusiastic band of workers who founded the Socialist Party of Great Britain in June, 1904, has passed out of the struggle at the age of 81. He died of cerebral hemorrhage on October 10th at Cheltenham. To the last he was bound up with the working-class movement, to which he had given the whole of his adult life. When failing health, during the war years, kept him out of activity, his interest did not flag; he looked to his son to keep him fully posted about the Party's doings, and always demanded a full report of what happened at conferences and similar party meetings. He was a Socialist and a good comrade in the fullest sense.

He lived to witness the first attack made by the Party on the central citadel of power in this country, and this had a very intimate appeal to him, because he was one of the party candidates in the Battersea borough election of November, 1906.

Kraske was a member of the Battersea Branch of the Social Democratic Federation, at the time he participated in the movement to induce that party to shed its social reform policy along with other rubbish. When the efforts of the group, of which he was an associate, failed to induce the members of that party to rid themselves of the leadership caucus, he came out of the Social Democratic Federation and took an active part in the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

Kraske was a short, sturdy, man who looked younger than his years. He was always active in helping on the work of the party and, until a few years ago, he was to be seen at nearly every party meeting. A few winters before the war the party organised museum lectures at which members conducted parties around different museums. Old though he was, he attended these lectures. When asked why he came to them, he replied: "I am always ready to improve my knowledge.” That was his attitude to life; an increase of knowledge was to him an aid in the work of ending the system that exploited the workers.

When such a one as Kraske makes the final parting, we can do little more than express our sorrow and record his achievement. To the present writer it is the breaking of another link with a bright and fruitful past in which we clung to our hopes with the passion of youth; it is the passing out of a sturdy, honest and steadfast worker for Socialism, one of those people who really matter in a world of sordid ambitions, petty tricks, and the exploitation of man by man.

We therefore make this tribute to our late comrade so that his name may always figure on the roll of the fighters for the uplifting of humanity.

Mrs. Kraske, who was also one of the founders of the party, is still with us and, we hope, will long remain so. To her and members of the family we send our sincere sympathy.


We have also received the sad news that Mrs Betty King, another of the early band who formed the party, died in November. She was not well known to the younger members of the party, but across the years she has given hospitality at her Stockport home to numerous members whose party work took them to the Manchester area.
To the members of her family we also send our sincere sympathy.

“Common Ownership”: Ourselves v. The Labour Party (1932)

From the December 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard

At a meeting in the provinces addressed recently by a member of the S.P.G.B. someone in the audience protested against the statement that the S.P.G.B. was the only party that stood for Socialism; and produced a membership card of the Labour Party, wherein occurred the statement that the party stood for “common ownership.” The above difficulty is typical of the state of mind of many workers who support the Labour Party under the impression that they are thereby helping to emancipate the members of their class.

In the first place it is necessary to bear in mind that the membership of the local Labour Parties is small compared with that of the total membership of the Labour Party. The bulk of the membership consists of affiliated Trade Unionists (who may be anything, politically, from Tories to Anarchists). They form the basis for the power of the leaders of the party, who adjust their electoral programmes to the varied ideas of those who pay the piper.) Thus we find in Labour Party programmes a mishmash in which the views of Liberal industrial capitalists and the Trade Union bosses predominate. In these programmes the idea of common ownership finds no place, although the words are used in their object. Common ownership would deprive the capitalists of their property rights, i.e., of their power to exact rent, interest, and profit from the labour of the workers. Common ownership involves a social revolution, the abolition of the mode of living of the ruling class in present-day society. It will be resisted by this class by every means in its power, being directly opposed to its interests.

Let us see how much resistance is offered to the programme of the Labour Party. Details of this were dealt with in last month’s issue of the Socialist Standard (” The Labour Party Conference ”).—Even when the Labour Party uses the phrase “common ownership” it is used as if it were synonymous with “public ownership.” “Labour and the Nation,” calls for the "public ownership of the coal, transport and power industries” (p. 47). No intelligent capitalist opposes such measures, in principle.

As the Liberal Industrial Report published in 1928 has it: —
Public concerns of one kind or another . . .  already cover so vast a field that the supposed choice between Individualism and Socialism is largely an obsolete issue. An examination of the existing types of Public Concerns shows that the Socialist would gain nothing by assimilating to a single theoretical model a diversity developed by experience to meet actual situations. On the other hand, it would be quite impossible to scrap the elaborate legislation enacted by Governments of every political complexion and hand over our public utilities and railways system to the operation of uncontrolled Individualism. There is, therefore, no question of principle at stake, but only one of degree of expediency. and of method.
(“ Britain's Industrial Future,” page 456.)
 The Socialist is not concerned, as is suggested above, with any "theoretical model.” We have no cut-and-dried straight-jacket into which we wish to thrust industries. We know that the precise; form assumed by the organisation of industry after the revolution will depend as always upon experience and changing conditions. Hence we offer no ready-made plans.

People who are prepared to tolerate and support capitalist ownership (whether private or “public”) are full of plans. They have to be. The problems created by capitalism are so numerous that those engaged in its administration spend their time necessarily in endeavouring to solve them and in finding ways and means of reconciling the antagonistic interests involved. Socialists, on the other hand, recognise that the most fundamental antagonism of all, that between the workers and the capitalists as classes, can find no solution within any form of capitalist ownership. What can it matter to the workers whether they are exploited by a joint-stock company, a public utility corporation set up by a Labour Government, or by a Government Department? During the strike of 1926 drivers and conductors of the London General Omnibus Co. came out along with similar grades in the employ of the London County Council Tramways.

They were members of the same union, members of the same class, with the same interest, hostile to that of the employing class no matter by what the organisation might be, through which the interests of the Capitalists were represented. Only common ownership of the means of living as proposed by the Socialist Party of Great Britain can abolish this conflict of interests, and it is the business of Socialists to make this plain to the workers.

The Labour Party, however, found no difficulty in accepting office with Liberal support, just as it found it easy to win seats in Parliament by means of Liberal programmes. The most advanced proposals of the Labour Party only involve the buying out of groups of capitalists. How can the workers, who have nothing, buy out those who have everything ?

The Labour Party propose to convert shareholders into Government bondholders, enjoying interest guaranteed by the Government. This will leave the working class non-owners in the same position as they are now. .The capitalist class as a whole, being politically organised, would continue to use the State as its executive power; and would also use the Labour Party, as it has already done, to confuse the workers by accepting official responsibility for the administration of capitalism.

Lacking definite Socialist principles the Labour Party can only repeat the disappointments and failures to which it has hitherto led those workers who have placed their trust in it, breaking up into fragments whenever faced by a crisis that demands definite action in the interest of the workers. Having been built up on the "principle" that it was necessary to gain the support of the Liberal section of the capitalists for "reforms," it can act only as the tool or catspaw of that section.

There is no substitute for the conscious political organisation of the working-class aiming at the common ownership of the means of life. That involves constant opposition to all sections of the master-class, which is represented in this country only by the S.P.G.B.
Eric Boden

For Carter and Ford—Read Capitalism (continued) (1976)

From the November 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Arch-reactionary Barry Goldwater, who was for all-out war in Vietnam in 1964 when Johnson was still regarded as a “dove”, is supporting Ford. This is taken as an indication of how far to the “right” Republican sentiments have moved. The lines of demarcation between so-called “liberal” and “conservative” are entirely imaginary. Those who fondly regard themselves as liberal regard Carter as a liberal, and the conservatives think he is one of them. The balancing trick of appearing to be all things to all men is the essence of the capitalist politician.
All the polls indicate that people vote on the candidate’s personality rather than his policies. They want to know how steady his finger would be on the button. . . .
(Sunday Times 22nd August 1976)
Since differences in their policies need to be searched for with a large magnifying glass, “personality” becomes the only means of telling t’other from the which. There is no conception as yet in the minds of the American working class, of a world without “the button”. This lack of any penetration beyond the reformist spectrum is something they share with their fellow sufferers throughout the world.

Running Walter
Carter’s running mate, Senator Walter Mondale, is reported as saying:
in the whole range of human problems I’ve dealt with in my 12 years in the Senate — hunger, housing, labour, Indian education, migrant workers, children, ageing — I keep getting back to one thing; the strength of the family.
A nice piece of side-stepping, but what about the problems? The choice of running mate is a shabby bit of expediency aimed at “balancing the ticket” (vote-catching). Mondale is rated a liberal, and this has focussed attention on spending. Are people opposed to spending as such or only to wasteful government spending? Do people want less government or better government? “The opinion polls show total ideological confusion”. (Guardian, 17th July 1976.) The opinion pollsters ask only a limited range of questions, designed to sound out what is popularly expected of capitalism. Workers are not asked to consider and discuss the nature and extent of waste under capitalism, or the desirability of a world run democratically, without government.

In 1967 Mondale made a speech supporting Johnson’s Vietnam policy. Four years later, he told an interviewer that it was
a painful speech . . .  I think the worst mistake I’ve made in public life is to be a slow learner on Vietnam. This has been the most tragic mistake this country has ever made . . .  and I share part of that blame, and the record is there, I’m not proud of it.
(Guardian, 17th July 1976)
Mondale supports capitalism but pukes at its most brutal outcome. Here is no condemnation of war, but a slow learner realizing a tragic mistake. Any capitalist politician in power, who refused to endorse a war involving “national interests” would be forced out. The Labour Party in Britain has spawned many “slow learners” about war, who have rallied to the flag when the time came.

The Black vote
Carter is wooing the votes of America’s black workers with promises to put “more than one” black in the cabinet. There are the traditional “black jobs” in the echelons of administration, and black Congressmen, but there has yet to be a black man in the government. The Democratic convention of 1964 in Atlantic City, which nominated Johnson, had an all-white segregationist delegation from Mississippi. This year a new image is being put over. Andrew Young, an influential black Congressman, is working to get Carter the black vote. If it were a solution of problems for people to be the same colour as those in power, then white workers would have had all their problems solved long ago. So would the black workers living under black dictatorships in Africa. Incidentally, it is fear of Russian “infiltration” in Africa that prompts Ford to send Kissinger to put pressure on the South African government to help bring about majority rule in Rhodesia. Kissinger is obviously thick-skinned enough to ignore America’s own brutal record of racism. America has its own style of apartheid and ghetto living. Though not backed by legislation, the effect is the same.

Senator Moss of Utah, who is chairman of the Senate Committee investigating alleged fraud and abuse in the Medicaid programme for the poor, sent out a team of snoopers who made more than two hundred visits during four months in eight cities. (Investigating fraud is a form of waste peculiar to capitalism.) They found that patients usually get substandard care whether they need attention or not. Cases were reported of patients in need of care going untreated and X-rays being taken without film in the machines. In Los Angeles a woman who handed in a mixture of a soapy water was told her “urine sample” was normal.

Medicaid was started in 1965 to provide medical facilities for 20,000,000 poor Americans. Eligibility varies from place to place. In New York, you need a family of four and an income of less than $5,000 a year. Some doctors are making more than $100,000 out of fiddles. More than half the delegates at the Republican convention were in the $30,000 income bracket.

Ford and Carter and (if capitalism remains) those who succeed them, will be promoting more reforms to sort out the mess produced by past reforms in the vain attempt to reduce the running expenses of capitalism. The poor and their problems will still be here.

Issue — What Issue?
The governor of California, Edmund (Jerry) Brown Junior, who was a rival candidate to Carter for the nomination, is to give Carter all the help he can. Governor Brown, a former Jesuit Seminarian, says that Catholic misgivings about Carter are “overblown and inaccurate”. Asked if he would run again in 1980 Brown said:
I’m not even sure I’ll run for Governor again. I may even retire to the monastery to figure out what this is all about.
As both Carter and Ford are bible-belters, God is put in a difficult position rather like that of wartime, with both sides praying for victory. In his “infinite wisdom”, he has the consolation of knowing it will make no difference either way. Farcical though the whole thing is, it is too tragic to be funny.

As Socialists, we often observe when an election takes place in the UK that the “manifestos” of all parties other than the SPGB are so closely similar that if the names were blanked out they would be virtually indistinguishable. Although we have been dealing with the American Presidential election, capitalism and its absurdities are so similar all over the world, we could change the names and be dealing with almost any other country.

How much longer we will have to live in the suffocating atmosphere produced by a politically ignorant working class is the real question of our times. Socialists, however, have good grounds for optimism. Nothing demonstrates the bankruptcy of our opponents better than an election, and we have the only workable answer to their system of chaos and misery.

Socialism will be a classless world community, democratically administered without leaders, Presidents, or governments. Production will be geared to meeting human need, on the basis of free access. The privileged private or state property institutions of capitalism will make way for communal interest and cooperation. Money, wages and profits will be no more. Thus, every “issue” being bandied about during the Presidential election campaign will disappear, never to be seen again.
Harry Baldwin

For Carter and Ford—Read Capitalism (1976)

From the October 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Before commenting upon some of the things being presented as issues in the American Presidential election, it is important to clarify a few basic questions which will never be asked by the contending parties. For Ford and Carter the objective is power, but why such power exists and whether its continuation serves the welfare of the majority of society are other matters.

Why the need for the Presidency? What is the Presidency? It is a particular form of political power structure, resting upon a private property foundation. The military, legislative and coercive superstructure is based upon the dominance of one class and the subjugation of another. The President is the head of State. The ultimate political authority over the armed forces. The number one national leader in a hierarchy of wealth and privilege. He is the top Political Executive of the capitalist class as a whole. The state represents the interests of the national capital. The Presidency is a political cloak for the operations of big business capitalism. Politics in general and government activity in particular, provides the capitalist class with the shield of anonymity. The capitalist is removed from direct responsibility for his system. The state can be regarded as above the fray.

The turmoil of capitalism, economic crisis, unemployment, poverty, bad housing and wars can thus be blamed on the ineptitude of the President or erroneous government policies. When dissatisfaction boils over, the President and the government can be changed, posing no threat to the system. The falsehood that capitalism can work without creating social problems is kept going by the appearance of making a fresh start. A new President? A new government? Now things will change! Socialists reject these assumptions which are promoted by the mass media and accepted by the majority of the working class. We reject the political trickery of capitalism because we see behind the façade of “a fresh start” the ownership of the means of production by a profit-motivated minority, whose commercial operations engulf the entire world. No solutions to basic problems can result from changing leaders, since they are products of the system, who advocate its continuation and therefore necessarily serve its ends.

To make judgements and form opinions on the basis of personality—the alleged attributes of Carter against those of Ford—is totally futile and irrelevant. To think in terms of “liberal” versus “conservative” is really not to think at all, but to swallow the cut-and-dried concepts of the pundits. Capitalism sets the limits within which they can move.

Two US officers killed in Korea. The north claims previous weeks of provocations. Ford sends in the fleet. Demonstrates military power. Show of force is good for prestige in this mad society.

It turns out that 41,000 us troops have been in Korea since 1953 when the war “ended”. Korea is mineral-rich and strategically important in relation to both China and Japan. The Guardian headline of 23 August read: “Korean flare-up stops rot in metal prices”. The prospect of a new war in Korea could add one hundred pounds a tonne to the price of copper and three hundred pounds to a tonne of tin.

Is Ford saving face by showing no weakness with the election coming, or can we expect renewed warfare in Korea when the election is over? Certainly, war sometime, somewhere, while capitalism lasts.

Carter Foreign Policy
Asked about his lack of experience in international affairs, Carter said:
I’ve been a student of foreign policy, and I understand it. There’s no mystery about it—its simply a matter of decency, judgement, common-sense, and intelligence.
He has been briefed by dozens of “experts” (we are left to wonder who briefed the experts.) He would insist that Russia refrain from irresponsible intervention in other countries such as Angola, or he would consider an economic embargo of Russia, including the “total with-holding of trade”. This, no doubt, in his common-sense and intelligent judgement, would be the “decent” thing to do. And if the Russian capitalist class took counter-measures that led to a major war, we assume it would be a “decent” war! Carter like Ford would increase the US defence (read war) budget, but not by so much. He would negotiate with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons and insist on overall parity. With a firepower capable of wiping out all life on earth several times over, talk of “reduction” is meaningless. He would withdraw us troops from Asia—except those necessary to fulfil us commitments to Japan and, yes, Korea.

Under Ford and Kissinger, last year America sold more than eleven thousand million dollars’ worth of war-making hardware around the world. Carter wants a ceiling on the yearly amount sold, and a case-by- case review to see whether sales further American objectives.

The Guardian, 23rd August, ventures the comment that if elected Carter “would be forced to bend to the realities of congressional opinion and of other nation’s needs and demands.” In other words, capitalism would run him while he went through the motions of running capitalism.

Carter in New York
In his nomination speech, Carter said:
It’s now a time for healing. We want to have faith again. We want to be proud again. We just want the truth again.
This platitudinous drivel can mean anything or nothing. “Healing” is taken to mean recovery from Watergate; Bad-guy, Republican Nixon, let everybody down. Inference? The American workers should rally to good-guy Carter. “Faith again”? Faith in Nixon made Watergate possible. Faith and leadership mean continuing jingoism and ignorance. “Proud again”? The working class have nothing to be proud of in the performance of the ruling class. It is implied that Watergate shamed America. This is of no concern to workers. A far greater shame is continuing poverty and millions unemployed in the world’s richest country. “Truth again”? Truth has never been the strong point of capitalist politicians. The last Democrat President was Johnson. He told so many lies, particularly about Vietnam, that they coined the phrase “credulity gap” to cover the distance between what was really happening and the White House handouts.

On TV Carter (briefly) spoke the truth. His first words were:
Hello, I’m Jimmy Carter and I’m running for President.
A sad reflection on working-class awareness, rivalled only by Gerald Ford running for President.
Harry Baldwin

To be continued