Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Review Column: Poor People's March (1968)

The Review Column from the August 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Poor People’s March
Typical of so much of the work of the protest movements in America, the Poor People’s March and the setting up of Resurrection City in Washington was a brilliant piece of advertising.

There is no doubt that America has a vast population of desperately poor and that the colour of a person’s skin often determines how desperate his poverty.

Thus a Negro is much more likely to be unemployed, to have his children in their beds bitten by rats, than is a white man. A Puerto Rican is more likely to suffer from malnutrition, to be unemployed, than is a white American.

These are the conditions the marchers were protesting against and as far as that goes there can only be sympathy for them. It would be a sorry day if slum dwellers and the unemployed accepted their lot without protest.

But how constructive are the demonstrations? Apart from sects like Black Power, most of the Negro movement in America supports one of the two big parties, usually the Democrats. That is why many Negroes were crushed by the assassination of Robert Kennedy; they were convinced that with him as President a lot of their problems would be solved.

Many of them—like the Rev. Ralph Abernathy—are Christians who, whatever efforts they devote to improving this life, are convinced that the real reward for all good men will come in the hereafter. 

What this means is that much of the Negro movement accepts the capitalist system which produces their problems along with the religious delusions which are aimed at anaesthetising them to its effects.

The permanent and effective solution to poverty and to racism is to be found in a new society. That requires a more fundamental questioning of the politics and morals of capitalism than the Poverty Marchers are prepared to undertake.


Trudeau: Canada’s Kennedy
The election of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the new Canadian Prime Minister, shows that the Kennedy myth extends beyond the borders of the Untied States.

Trudeau got a lot of publicity, and support, with his image of the young, modern, unstuffy leader. He wears informal clothes, has his hair cut in the right style, drives a fast sports car. Even a Kennedy was never as way, way out as this.

The new Canadian Premier also impressed people with his uncompromising stand against the Quebec separatists—a stand which, because of the separatists’ tendency to violent demonstrations, put him in some physical danger.

In fact, Trudeau’s stand was not so much courageous as unavoidable. He simply could not run away from the separatists; to have done so could very well have cost him the overwhelming victory which he eventually won.

Now he has to live up to his image. A start has been made with a young Government and with promises to cut through a lot of the procedure which previous governments have followed.

The problem of Quebec nationalism is only one which Trudeau will face. The Canadian workers who voted for him will now be waiting for him to solve the country’s economic ills and to bring in the golden age of prosperity which his election image promised.

But Trudeau, like all other capitalist politicians, has not revealed the magical powers which would be needed to tame capitalism. Since he is only human it can confidently be said that he will fail like the rest—for example like Kennedy with whom he is compared.

Thus another political reputation will be damaged, another shining image tarnished, another working class hope disappointed. Such disillusionment are so common for the working class that it is fair to wonder, when will they ever learn?


Rail Go Slow
Strikes and go-slows are an established part of British Rail life—a comment on the wages, conditions and prospects of a job on the railways.

Commuters who as a result every so often wait for trains which do not arrive, or who when they are lucky travel to work in carriages packed to suffocation, cannot be expected to welcome militant action by the railwaymen. But if they have time and patience, they should consider one or two facts.

The railwaymen are only struggling to improve conditions of employment which are abysmally low. As the recent go slow showed, the railways need an enormous amount of overtime for their efficient running—and the workers also depend on the overtime to make up their wages.

The commuters are also engaged in this struggle, although many of them may not do so in an organised way and would not dream of coming out on strike. This does not alter the fact that, as both commuters and railwaymen are after the same thing, their interests must be the same.

The chaos caused by the work to rule also showed up who are the productive people in society. No comparable confusion would be caused by the capitalist class ceasing to fulfil their function as parasites and exploiters. Society can do without them but it cannot do without productive work.

This point has been made before, when railwaymen or dockers or factory workers have downed tools. It was shown up recently in New York, when the dustmen went on strike.

Outraged commuters are fond of adopting a moral attitude. So what about the morals of a situation in which the people who are important to society can barely get a living?

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