The Sting in the Tail column from the April 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Labour Sees Stars
The main British political parties have long-since been aping the American practice of wheeling-out showbiz stars to support them at elections.
Last month there was a big swing of Scottish "artistes" from Labour to the Scottish National Party. Labour countered by parading their famous faces before the media with comedian Robbie Coltrane topping the bill.
Alas, the show bombed when Robbie fluffed his lines by voicing support for "an Independent Scotland", which is the SNP's policy, instead of Labour's devolution policy.
Serves the Labourites right! What kind of party is it that would even want, let alone seek, the votes of those who would vote for it because some politically clueless entertainer supported It?
Where Power Lies
At a recent Socialist Party meeting a young left-winger claimed that real power lay not with parliament but in the boardrooms of big business. It Is an old, familiar argument but it bears no resemblance to what actually happens.
For example, the Institute of Directors urges the government to cut the standard rate of taxation to 20p and so bring economic recovery. The Confederation of British Industries tells the government that the way to recovery is not through tax cuts but by more government spending, training programmes, etc.
What does the government do in the face of all this boardroom "power"? It simply ignores the I of D and the CBI and steers the course it thinks is best for British capitalism.
& Where It doesn’t
The other leg of the above argument is that real power lies not only in the boardrooms but with the military brasshats.
That this belief is equally wrong can be shown by the latest cuts in the size of the army. These are so large that the House of Commons Defence Committee warned that: -
The reduction might be so great that the force would not be able to cope with crises or even peacetime duties . . . and effectively police Northern Ireland.
ITV's Oracle 6 March
And what can the brasshats do about It? Nothing except fume with impotent rage as the number of soldiers that they have to play with is cut and cut again. Where does power lie?
Don't Bank On It
Many people have funny ideas about banks. They think banks have unlimited funds to lend, make bigger profits than any other industry and so on.
To these errors is added one from a writer in the February issue of the anarchist paper Freedom. He claims that banks are a "largely risk-free Investment" for British capitalists.
A glance at the current plight of the banking industry shows otherwise. During February Britain's "Big Four" banks, Barclay's, Midland, Lloyd's and NatWest, between them declared another £6 billion in bad debts for 1991 to add to the £4 billion total for 1990.
On top of this their combined profits fell by £700 million, their share prices are depressed and all four predict more hard times to come.
If British capitalists are looking for a risk-free investment then banking certainly isn't it.
Got Your Share?
Since 1979 the number of shareholders has increased from 3 million to 11 million now. This is almost entirely due to privatisation, the flotation of Abbey National, etc., but even so, the proportion of shares held by individuals has fallen from 28.2% to 21.3% during that time.
Now comes an organisation called ProShare which aims to reverse this decline:
The ProShare chairman said yesterday that share ownership was hindered by ignorance, high dealing costs and unfair tax treatment . . .
The Herald 21 February
ProShare plans to educate the ignorant about the risks and rewards in owning shares, press for individual investors to get the same taxation treatment as the big institutions, promote the spread of employee share owning schemes, and more.
Do we have a moral to this story? The Herald obligingly provides one for us:
It all sounds very grand and ambitious. Of course one "black Monday" could undo all the good work.
Dignity of Labour?
The quest for profit is unrelenting in a capitalist society. How unrelenting was shown in The Independent (13 March). German shipowners have been given a trial dispensation by the government on the manning levels of container ships.
And so it is that the glass lavatory has made its debut as a new navigational aid to keep up 24-hour-a-day productivity. A transparent toilet giving panoramic views of both port and starboard has been installed on the bridge of three ships owned by Hapag Lloyd, the large German shipowner. The commanding WC allows crew numbers to be cut to 13 for the 30,000 ton container ships as part of trials for new low-manning arrangements. The requirement to have at least two people on lookout at any time has been suspended as a result.
It is good to see that the workers are not taking this lying down - or rather sitting down. Indeed one of them Knut Schronder, a ship's pilot on the Kell Canal, shows a great deal of awareness about capitalism and how it works.
In a recent letter of protest to the German transport ministry he wrote: "To me this is an expression of utter contempt for human beings. Productivity must be kept up even when shitting. You can’t say clearer than that when declaring your support for an unsocial market economy."