Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Filing a Complaint (1987)

From the April 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Access to Personal Files Bill which is going through Parliament at the moment, is intended to give individuals the right of access to files which contain personal information about them. However, the extreme reluctance of the state to loosen its grip on information has meant that the Bill has been steadily diluted as it has gone through Parliament. It is not a government Bill and so cannot command the automatic support of a majority in the House of Commons as a result of MPs being told how to vote by the Party Whips. So although the Bill is supported by back-bench MPs from all parties, its sponsor. Liberal MP Archie Kirkwood, has had to do a deal with the government to ensure Tory support and the Bill's safe passage. As a result, the legislation will only provide right of access to housing, education and social work files and not medical, employment and immigration files or credit records, as was originally intended. It is proposed to establish, in addition to access to paper records, the right to amend files where information is shown to be incorrect and to provide payment in compensation for any hardship which might have been caused by the holding of the inaccurate information.

For anyone concerned about the use and abuse of information this must represent a (very small) step forward. However there are good reasons for believing that the impact of the new legislation will be even less than is commonly thought. Firstly, in order to gain access to information about yourself you must be aware that a particular agency has a file on you. This is by no means always the case. For example, some employers pay money to a right wing organisation called the Economic League which provides information about prospective employees. In particular they will inform the employer of a worker's trade union activities and political views. If an applicant for a job. whose name is passed to the Economic League for vetting, is thought to be "subversive" or an active trade unionist, then the League will recommend to the employer that that person should not be employed.

Where does the Economic League get its information from? Some of it is passed to them by police in the Special Branch; some is rumour and hearsay; much of it is inaccurate, defamatory and highly damaging. In most cases people will be completely unaware that an organisation like the Economic League has a file on them. They might simply be mystified at their continual failure to get jobs that they apply for. But even if they did know such a file was being held they would have no right of access to see that file, since the Economic League is not covered by the new legislation.

Some computerised files containing personal information are already covered by the Data Protection Act which comes into operation later this year. This Act. passed under duress in order to comply with European standards on data protection, provides minimal access to computer files on payment of a fee. (The Access to Personal Files Bill also requires individuals seeking access to files to pay a fee to the local authority holding the information). It was partly to plug the gaps left by the Data Protection Act that the new legislation was introduced. If not. the absurd situation would have existed where, if a housing authority had computerised its filing system then individuals would have a right to see their files (under the Data Protection Act) whereas, if records were kept on paper they would have no right of access. However, because of the limited categories of files covered by the Access to Personal Files Bill, such anomalies will continue to exist especially in relation to medical records.

Why should this be of any concern to workers? Why does it matter that the state and various private agencies collect information on us which they put into files? After all much of the information collected is intended to benefit us: by enabling the NHS to give us better health care; to enable a local authority to assess our housing needs; to allow a social security officer to assess our entitlement to benefit. It may be true that much of the information which we pass on about ourselves is collated by agencies whose main purpose is apparently benign — providing welfare, education. health care and so on. But this is not the only reason it’s collected. After all, just think for a moment how much information about yourself you are obliged to provide simply in order to claim housing benefit for example: how many rooms there are in your home; who lives with you and what the relationship is between you. details of your income and employment; what kind of heating you have and so on. Why is it all necessary?

It's necessary because housing benefit, like many other benefits, is means-tested. This means that you have no right to benefit but instead you've got to prove that you are a genuinely ' deserving'' case —that you fall within a certain category of claimant. It's not enough for you to say that you don't earn enough to pay the rent; you've got to prove it. So that's one reason why state agencies collect so much information — so that they can ration benefits in such a way that only certain groups get it. In other words giving all this information about yourself might help you to get benefit, but on the other hand, if you give the "wrong" answers then you will get nothing.

What is more worrying than the use of information to ration scarce resources is the fact that in many cases you may think you are supplying information for one purpose — getting a driving licence for example — when in fact that information is also being passed on to other agencies without your knowledge. So the information which you supply to the DVLC to get your driving licence may well find its way back on to the Police National Computer or Special Branch files and then on to the files of organisations like the Economic League. Similarly information given to the NHS or a housing authority might be passed to immigration officials looking for people who they believe have stayed in the country longer than for the period stipulated on their entry visa. So, while it is extremely difficult for us to gain access to information about ourselves held on official files, there may be few qualms on the part of state agencies about passing on personal information to others without our knowledge.


More information could lead to better provision of services designed to meet our needs. As anyone who has tried to claim housing benefit will know, this is very far from the case at the moment since the aim of the system is not meeting people's needs but rationing resources. The fact that countless officials collect information about us to which we have no right of access is worrying because we know that it can be used in such a way as to enable the state at least to control us and at worst to coerce, threaten or punish us. This is not surprising. In capitalism much of this information is collected by the state, and the main function of the state is to protect the interests of the capitalist class. One way of doing this is to exercise social control through apparently benign state agencies — schools, social services, social security. . .  A necessary precondition for the exercise of social control is information — knowing what the working class is up to, especially those labelled as "deviant " or “subversive". If effective control cannot be exercised through these "soft" control methods then there are still the more punitive methods of the police, prisons and security services. There is nothing new about these forms of state coercion. What is new is the effectiveness of information technology and surveillance methods which permit more people to be controlled in more areas of their lives. Neither the Access to Personal Files Bill, nor the Data Protection Act will do anything to alter the fundamental inequality of power that exists between individuals and the state in capitalism.
Janie Percy-Smith

Between the Lines: Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1 April 1987 (1987)

The Between the Lines column from the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Marx once called religion the opium of the people. In the late 1980s it could be argued that TV is the opium of the people. In the USA the synthesis has been achieved: religious TV is the opium of the people. Heroin would be a better metaphor, but whereas the latter is illegal, religious TV is available on tap and in doses of hugely mind-numbing proportions. You have to see TV religion in the USA — "televangelism" they call it — to appreciate just how easy it is to vomit without sticking your fingers down your throat. This morning I watched Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, a show watched daily by 468,000 viewers. Robertson is the sort of man who vacillates with ease between praying for people's souls and preying on their gullibility. When he is doing the former he aids the vomiting process, looking straight at you with the sincerity of a man who is convinced that sincerity is a good investment (and it is: Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network raked in $129 million last year); when he is preying on the ignorance of his audience Robertson shows himself to be a manipulator of the mind with an immunity to vertigo when it comes to the heights of audacity. “We are living in a greedy, lustful world” says Robertson, looking into the camera behind which one imagines a team of accountants to be standing: "Let me tell you, our society is too full of sinners asking, 'Hey, what 's in it for me?' Isn't it about time that we all just got on our knees and asked, what can we do for God? How can we be better people in the eyes of the one who made us?" Robertson's contribution to paying off the debt to god is to accept the nomination for Republican Presidential candidate in the next election. He is all in favour of nuclear weapons.

According to research carried out at the University of Pennsylvania. 13.3 million Americans regularly watch religious TV shows. There are now 221 evangelical TV shows on US TV and these collect well in excess of one billion dollars per year from subscribers who, conned by what they see, send in money to the TV tricksters in order to assist them in doing Christ's work. All too often this money is won from workers who can ill afford it, such as the 67-year-old widow in Altoona. Pennsylvania, who was threatened with having her heating cut off because she donated the social security money sent to her to pay the gas bill to Oral Roberts who had persuaded her that he needed it more (reported in Newsweek, 6.4.87). Roberts (not to be confused with Robertson who is another trickster working the same market) has a weekly broadcast which reaches 1.1 million households. He obtains annual donations of $58 million. In 1980 Oral tried to win the evangelical ratings war by claiming that he had seen a vision of Jesus 900 feet in height (everything in the US is bigger than life, and in this case even bigger than the fiction of the Bible). Money came flooding in to Roberts after this whopper penetrated the minds of the most stupid of the Americans: he was even sent $1.3 million by a 79-year-old greyhound track owner from Florida. But the proceeds of the 900-foot lie were not enough for our Oral, so earlier this year he announced on his show that unless the punters paid in 8 million dollars the Lord would take him away from them. You might have thought that this would be a good reason for writing out an immediate cheque for 8 million dollars to the Lord's bank account in appreciation of his intention (for a few million more could he take the rest of them?), but no. the suckers paid up and Oral is thinking of a new scheme at this very moment. The TV preachers are doing quite a bit of thinking right now, because at this moment there is a war of unprecedented ferocity going on as to who will win the largest number of viewers and. more importantly. saved souls, for which read four-figure donations. The war turned vicious when Jimmy Swaggart (would you be spiritually uplifted by a guy called Jimmy Swaggart who looks like a boxing promoter?) whose show is watched weekly by over 2 million Americans announced that Jim and Tammy Bakker (a husband and wife con-act, watched by millions weekly, pulling in a divine $129 million in 1986) were getting up to naughty things. Tammy was a drug addict and Jim had seduced a prostitute called Jessica Hahn after drugging her wine. Both have since confessed to the minor transgressions from the path of self-righteousness. Hahn received $265,000 from Bakker's lawyers in compensation for the ordeal — a fact which has led reporters to suggest that he did more than make neighbourly love to her. Now the evangelists are throwing more than pious comments at one another: a religious TV war has broken out. Richard Gaylord Briley, who has worked as a freelance fundraiser for several of the TV evangelists, describes the war thus: "This is hamburger wars. Wendy's fighting McDonald's. They are trying to maintain income and market shares in a declining market ". Or, to quote Bakker's lawyer, speaking in anger at Swaggart's revelations about his client. "Swaggart wants to be the only spokesman for God. the only one who receives the tithes for God". The shows themselves are hideously creepy, like allowing rapists to come on our screens to publicise country rambles for women. Would anyone buy a second-hand ideology from these fakers? The answer is yes, millions do, but the good news is that millions more are being emphatically turned off of the all-too-trans- parent madness of religion during the process.

What else have I seen on American telly? An ad for insurance which shows a man dying in a car accident because he didn't have the right piece of paper in his top pocket; a cartoon series for children featuring a goody called Rambo; and a soap opera in which a man with a patch on one eye tells the woman who runs the aerobics class that he doesn't see life the same way as her. Neither do I. The USA spends billions of dollars each year on nuclear weapons. I have seen no reference to that on TV. But then, why waste time on the ultimate madness of social reality when studio-directed good-for-the-soul madness abounds?
Steve Coleman

Russia: From Workers' State to State Capitalism? (1987)

Book Review from the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Russia: From Workers' State to State Capitalism by Peter Binns. Tony Cliff and Chris Harman. Bookmarks. £2.50.)

Most Trotskyites hold that Russia is a "degenerate workers' state". The SWP, however, of which these three authors are leading members, holds that Russia is state capitalist. So does the Socialist Party, but there is a fundamental difference between our points of view. As the title of this book shows, they hold that Russia degenerated from some sort of working class or socialist regime into state capitalism whereas we hold that capitalism was never abolished in Russia, not even in Lenin's day. and that state capitalism developed there as the leaders of the Bolshevik party responded to the pressures of material circumstances, eventually evolving into a new ruling class monopolising the means of production through the state.

The SWP deny that Russia was state capitalist before 1928. So what was it up till then? Basically, as this book — a reprint of articles originally written in the 1970s — shows, they are saying it was the "degenerate workers' state” that the more dogmatic Trotskyites still claim it to be. But this view is just as absurd in relation to pre-1928 Russia as the SWP admit it to be in relation to post-1928 Russia. The ownership of industry by a one-party state, buying and selling, the wages system, capital accumulation, international pressures, all existed just as much before, as after. 1928. The only difference was that by 1928 Trotsky had been definitively excluded from the Russian ruling élite with no hope of being able to get back into its ranks again. In other words, the SWP's explanation for the coming of state capitalism to Russia is political rather rather than economic and so on a par with the absurd Maoist view which dates the "restoration of capitalism” in Russia from the coming to power of Khrushchev after the death of Stalin.

The fact that the SWP fail to recognise the capitalist nature of the Russian economy before 1928 and in fact attribute to it some minimal "socialist” character must inevitably cast doubt on their conception of socialism. For what they are saying is that what made the pre-1928 Russian economy "non-capitalist" was the more or less acceptable nature of the then political system. This implies that another political change, both in Russia and the West, if carried out by insurrectionary means, could establish "socialism" even if the essential features of the capitalist economy — particularly wage-labour and capital accumulation — remained. That this is indeed the SWP view can be seen from their recent pamphlet The Future Socialist Society which says that one of the first things to happen after the socialist revolution is that wages will be raised. As we are also told that we shall all become employees of the state then it is clear that their alternative to Russia-type state capitalism is . . . another form of state capitalism. Their so-called "socialist revolution", then, is no more than a radical change in the political management of the wages-prices-profit system that is capitalism.

Having said this, there are still one or two useful insights in the book. For example Harman's observation that from the second quarter of the 19th century onwards all ruling classes in societies based on non-capitalist modes of exploitation were subjected by the world market to immense pressures to "change their mode of exploitation so as to subordinate everything else to the accumulation of means of production in order to accumulate other means of production" if they were not to be dominated by those states which had already adopted the capitalist mode of production.

Harman cites Japan as the only fully successful example of this in the 19th century when, in the 1860s. a section of the feudal ruling class "took control of the state and used this control to subordinate the whole of Japanese society to the development of industry on a capitalist basis". He then spoils it all by adding:
   In 1929 the Stalinist ruling stratum in Russia faced exactly the same dilemma: follow the logic of capitalism and accumulate in order to further accumulate or face subjection to international capitalism.
But. once again, what's so special about 1929? Are we to believe that this same dilemma did not present itself to the Bolshevik government right from its seizure of power in 1917? Lenin himself (who the SWP claim as one of their mentors) entertained no such illusion and openly advocated, in 1918 and again in 1921. state capitalism as the only way forward for Russia, while waiting for the world socialist revolution he mistakenly believed to have been imminent.

In the light of the Marxist perspective glimpsed by Harman, Russian Bolshevism can be seen as a reaction to the failure of the Tsarist ruling class to successfully carry out the subordination of Russian society to the capitalist imperative to accumulate capital out of the exploitation of wage-labour. In other words, the Bolsheviks — even if they did come to power through a social revolution involving a high degree of participation by the relatively small industrial working class essentially carried through the task of "the development of industry on a capitalist basis" that the old ruling class had proved unable to do. And this began under Lenin and Trotsky in 1917 and 1918, not just in 1928 and 1929 under Stalin.
Adam Buick

Formation of The Socialist Party (1987)

From the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Comrades,

In a recent circular we drew your attention to the position of the SDF and the particular conditions surrounding some of its prominent members.

For years those who hold the views given in our previous manifesto have been working inside the Movement with a view to bringing the various facts before the members of the rank and file, and up to the issue of that circular we were hoping that even yet it would be possible to remodel the SDF and bring its policy into line with its principles.

Against this, however, was the fact that the Executive Council, largely influenced by H. Quelch, who, as we have shown in our previous circular, is dominated by the Trade Union leaders and others who have a financial grip upon the Twentieth Century Press, opposed in every way free and open discussion of our position. All criticisms of the policy or the actions of the Executive Council were turned into questions of personal abuse in order to hide the real issue.

The EC have now completely cast off the mask in this matter. Not only were the expulsions engineered at the Conference entirely without justification, evidence or notice — unless the endeavour of those expelled to lay the facts before their fellow-members is considered justification —but the EC have since expelled four other comrades for merely protesting against this action, and in their latest circular they again purposely obscure the issue, decline to discuss, and express their intention of expelling, without right of appeal, those members who dare to advocate the adoption of an uncompromising policy.

Breaches of Socialist discipline have been alleged against us. True! breaches of Socialist discipline have occurred, but these have been on the part of members of the Executive. officials of the Federation and supporters of the Opportunist policy against which we have protested.

The support by H. Quelch and C. F. Davis, of five Liberal-Labour candidates for the London County Council, viz.. Ben Cooper, W. Steadman, H. Gosling, G. Drew and J. Gregory. when these men were nominated at a meeting of the London Trades Council, (of which since then H. Quelch has been appointed Chairman) the support of capitalist candidates for Parliament, e.g.. D. Naoroji (a large shareholder in the Twentieth Century Press), by J. F. Green, sanctioned by the Executive Council; Percy Alden by Will Thorne (a Parliamentary candidate of the SDF) in spite of the determined opposition of the Tottenham Branch of the SDF, the support of Will Crooks by the same SDF representative, the canvass by J. Hunter Watts of various members of the SDF on behalf of Masterman, Liberal candidate for Dulwich; the repeated declaration by Quelch that he should ask to sanction the EC to support W. Steadman, the Liberal candidate for Central Finsbury; the support of the late EC. of Tillett and Burgess; and by the present EC by J. Hill, Liberal-Labour candidate at Govan; the support by H. Quelch of J. J. Terrett, a thrice expelled member of the Federation, at North West Ham. against the known desires of the two local branches; — these are a few recent instances of the breaches of discipline encouraged and condoned by the official SDF. It is these men who now have the audacity and sought to enforce Socialist discipline upon the leaders and officials and officials of the body.

Now, Comrades, in building up a strong Socialist Party it is indispensible that the fullest discussion on all matters affecting the position of the Organisation should be allowed, and it is also obvious that the members of a Militant Revolutionary Party cannot consent in any way to have their opinions stifled by the actions of their EC. But it is now evident that all further education of the members, either in relation to the facts of the situation, or in the essential principles upon which the Federation is based, is impossible within that body.

Realising this, the signatories to the aforementioned circular met together with others at Sidney Hall. Battersea, on Sunday, May 15, 1904,  to consider the whole position. and carried with enthusiasm the following resolution:
  That this meeting has arrived at the conclusion that the only way to put the principles and policy embedded in the circular into operation is to leave the SDF in a body and send a manifesto round the branches explaining our position and calling upon all those who are in favour of the same to join us in forming a straight, uncompromising Socialist Party.
In pursuance of this resolution, we appeal to all comrades who believe that the economic forces working through the development of capitalist society demand the formation of a Revolutionary Socialist Party; who believe that the emancipation of the working-class can only be obtained by the combined action of the members of that class, consciously organised in a Socialist Party, and who recognise that the Class-Struggle can alone be the basis of such a party; that therefore Social Democrats must avow themselves in opposition to all non- Socialist parties and politicians; and who realise that the SDF has ceased to merit the name of such a party, to throw in your lot with us and help us in building up a strong and healthy fighting party, organised on definite class lines for the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery under which they exist — from the capitalist society of which they are the victims.

Comrades, in London we have with us most of the active workers in the SDF — so much so that that organisation can no longer provide a lecture list, owing to the lack of speakers — and from the provinces we have a number of promises of support.

Conscious of the rectitude of our principles and the soundness of our policy, we ask you to help us to carry them into action, to cease to belong to a body which is fast becoming compromised beyond redemption. and to refuse longer to place men or traditions above the soundness of your principles or your party.

Signed on behalf of the Battersea Meeting
A. S. Albery,
E. J. B. Allen,
R. Elrick,
J. Fitzgerald,
H. J. Hawkins,
T. A. Jackson,
C. Lehane,
H. Martin,
H. C. Phillips
Provisional Committee
        Secretary (pro tem)
Sidney Hall, York, Battersea
Dated. May 28. 1904.

NOTE — The following Branches have already withdrawn: Battersea. Peckham and Dulwich, Watford. Wood Green. Kensal Town. Tentral West Ham. Also minorities from several other Branches.


Monument of Confusion (1987)

From the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Every Saturday at the Earl Grey Monument in Newcastle city centre, a crowd of eager young paper sellers practically trip up innocent passers-by, in their efforts to unload their latest offerings of ''revolutionary" wisdom. A whole range of groups calling themselves "socialist" will bark at bored shoppers and brandish high in the air the papers which they each claim to be the only true word of Karl Marx.

Who are all of these groups, and what evidence is there that any of their papers are any more revolutionary than the local Evening Chronicle? Apart from the Socialist Standard there are three papers/parties in particular which may be spotted at the Monument. All three are Trotskyist groups. They owe their origins to post-war doubts on the left about continuing to support the Russian dictatorship. The Socialist Standard, in contrast, had exposed from the time of the Russian revolution itself the fact that Russia was — in Lenin 's own words — state capitalist, and that the Bolshevik model of revolution was bound to lead to dictatorship, because it was not based on democratic participation.

First, there is Militant, which is supposedly produced by the Militant Tendency, but is in fact produced by a manipulative sect called the Revolutionary Socialist League, so called because it is neither revolutionary nor socialist. The Militant idea of "socialism" can be found in their proposal to "nationalise the top 200 companies". Quite apart from the problem of what happens to the 201st, this is a blueprint for state capitalism. Miners, steel workers and others in nationalised industries know only too well that the priority is still profit rather than human needs, even if the profit goes to the state boss rather than the private boss. Like other groups on the left, Militant persists in the naive view that if only we could get the "right leaders", a Labour government could humanise capitalism.

The Next Step is the paper of the Revolutionary Communist Party and follows Lenin's false theory (taken from the English Liberal, Hobson, in 1916) that the world divides neatly into countries which are "imperialist" and those which are not. According to the dangerous assumption that the enemy of an enemy must be a friend (known in the jargon as "revolutionary defeatism") this means that British workers must support any "smaller" country which the British state happens to be at war with. So during the Falklands war in 1982, the RCP produced a pamphlet urging us to support Galtieri and his fascist-type junta; and during the crisis surrounding the bombing of Tripoli in 1986 they produced a leaflet stating "Britain backs Reagan; We back Gaddafi". No doubt the Libyan dictator was very pleased to hear about this.

The Socialist Workers' Party offer the Socialist Worker as the paper which has really got the capitalist system sussed. On closer inspection, however, it becomes clear that it is spreading confusion about what socialism is and how to get it. In giving examples of contradictions within the pages of Socialist Worker we are spoilt for choice, for there are dozens. In their issue of 11 May 1985. the following two statements both appear:
  1. "We believe a future Labour government will not act in the interests of the working class. On the contrary, it will act like every previous Labour government — in the interests of the bosses' class"
  2. "Our attitude is clear. We are for a Labour government".

This year the SWP is again urging workers to vote Labour. The way Socialist Worker tries to justify such a contradictory stance is by referring (politely, of course) to the supposed inability of workers to understand socialism. The self-appointed vanguard of the SWP realise the limitations of Labour government, but the idea of simply stating this to workers is apparently far too straight for them. Instead workers, presumably including SWP members themselves, have to be dragooned into electing yet another capitalist government. in order to "learn from their mistakes” — which the SWP has told them to make.

Why does the Socialist Party claim to be different from the other groups who peddle their wares at the "socialist" bazaar every Saturday?
• The Socialist Party has put a clear and consistent case for socialism at all times. Unlike all the other so-called "socialist" groups, we have never supported futile attempts to patch up the profit system. By its very nature the profit system will always put the profits of the few before the needs of the majority.
   Earl Grey's Monument itself was built in 1932 to mark "a century of civil peace" (!) and carries an inscription that "the people renew their gratitude to the author of the Great Reform Bill". This is ironic, as the groups who sell around it are still caught up in the same ridiculous attempt to reform capitalism in the interests of workers, with for example the SWP's "Right to Work" campaign or the recent RCP "demand"" for "a living wage”.
• The Socialist Party has never held up the Russian régime or any of the other state dictatorships as examples of "socialism". Socialism means a world-wide, democratic system of society. Productive resources would be owned in common and production would be for direct, free use — not profit or sale. There would be free access to wealth. Although the groups referred to above halfheartedly criticise present-day Russia, their idea of socialism is in fact a model for state dictatorship of the same kind. Take for example Socialist Worker, 6 September 1986, which says that in socialism there will be a militia "in charge of everyday law and order", that the party will form the government and that “there will not be complete universal suffrage'". The Socialist Party, in contrast, has always stated that socialism means the end of government and "law and order”, and the beginnings of people controlling their own lives democratically.
• Finally, The Socialist Party has never posed as a "vanguard" or leadership for workers to follow or be " organised"" by. We are simply a tool or vehicle to be used by workers wishing to take political action to end capitalism. Likewise, within The Socialist Party there is no leadership, no "instructions from the Central Committee" such as you will find in the Trotskyist groups. The movement for a democratic society must clearly be democratic itself, based on shared understanding and principles, rather than on leaders and their sheep. As socialist understanding spreads among workers, these self- appointed “revolutionary vanguards" will be seen increasingly as irrelevant to the struggle for socialism. Common ownership and democratic control of the world's resources will come about through a socialist majority, transforming society by democratic means. Only then can universal suffrage be, as Karl Marx put it a century ago, "transformed from the instrument of trickery which it has been up till now. into an instrument of emancipation" (1880 Programme of FPSWF).

The Socialist Party is an active and growing political force in the North East, and throughout the country. If you are interested in these ideas, why not send for a free sample of our literature?
Clifford Slapper

A Song in Your Heart (1987)

From the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

When we lived in the country the American airmen from what is still called RAF Upper Heyford were always welcome at village functions. They were pleasant, wanted to fit in and always brought a good supply of burgers from the PX Store for the barbecue. Recently Upper Heyford staged an air pageant. The American male's supposed sexual prowess was celebrated by car stickers with slogans like "Helicopter Pilots Get It Up Quicker" and "Power Pilots Get More Thrust" and T Shirts stating plainly "F . . . Me".

However the song book of the 77th Tactical Fighter Squadron — on sale to all, including children — did give pause for thought. Pages of outright obscenity are interlaced with songs which should set you thinking about the real purpose of the USAF presence in Oxfordshire and the sort of mental training which must be part of the curriculum of these pilots. Examples like "Phantom flyers of the sky/Persian pukes prepare to die./Rolling in with snake and nape?/Allah creates but we cremate" would explain why those who bombed Libyan civilians thought they were doing great. The Heyford's Own Victor Alert Song "Reading our prono and picking our asses/checking our forms out and passing our gasses?/Silver Sleek B-61s slung below/ Nuclear war and we're ready to go” and "Burn all those Ruskies" and "killing those Commies, we're having some fun" seem, at the very least, out of step with President Reagan's posturing in recent months. When Colonel Robert Brus of the US Third Air Force Public Affairs Division was asked if this was the public image the USAF really wanted to project, he agreed the book was in poor taste and would not in future be sold on Open Days. No second thoughts, apparently, on the thought processes which produced those lyrics.

Meanwhile, down the road, The Three Horseshoes has a sign outside "Polite Notice. No CND Supporters Welcome. Thank you". We don't know if it is considered that CND thought processes would contaminate the minds of his locals or whether it would be bad for business to have them around.
Eva Goodman

Obituary: Norman Stovold (1987)

Obituary from the September 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

We were saddened to learn of the death of Norman Stovold. He joined The Socialist Party in 1939 — a time when membership was thick with people who were, to put it mildly, colourful characters. Norman's comparatively quiet and self-effacing manner in itself made him conspicuous; it fronted a staunch socialist who applied his considerable administrative abilities to important party work.

During the war. in line with his socialist principles, he refused to be conscripted into the armed forces. As a conscientious objector, his case against war was at first judged by those false assessors of sincerity in the tribunal as inadequate. Norman eventually went to prison, after which he was exempted from joining in the killing machine on condition that he did agricultural work. From the authorities' point of view this was not an entirely satisfactory idea for Norman went to work with a group of socialists under the same tribunal condition, among them Laurie Franks, and they spent a lot of time informing other workers of the case for socialism, including that against fighting in capitalism's wars.

In later years Norman was elected to the Executive Committee; other posts to which he was elected were Auditor and Assistant General Secretary. In all this work his clear thinking and low-key dedication were invaluable.

He made an enormous contribution to The Socialist Party and to the socialist case. His comrades salute him.

Trade Unions in South Africa (1987)

From the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

For three weeks in August, black workers in South Africa took on six of the world's largest mining corporations — the backbone of South Africa's economy. Although the mineworkers' strike was ultimately defeated, it nevertheless marked a significant point in the development of trade unions in South Africa.

The miners' strike was primarily about wages and conditions, although in a country which denies blacks political rights, it was inevitably in some senses political. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had rejected a management offer of a 15-23.4 per cent wage increase which had been unilaterally implemented at the beginning of July, demanding instead an across the board increase of 30 per cent. However, black miners' grievances go far beyond dissatisfaction with the wage increase offered them to include:

  • the differential wage structures for black and white workers in the mining industry; the 484.541 black gold miners' earned in 1986 on average R5.127 (£1,602) as compared to the R27.679 (£8.650) earned by white gold miners. Black coal miners earned an average of R5.781 (£1.806) as compared to R27.838 (£8.700). Although the ratio of white miners' wages to black miners' has improved since 1970 (when the ratio was 27 to one) the sense of grievance persists.
  • Black mine workers get just 14 days a year paid holiday while white workers get 35 days.
  • Working conditions in the mines are appalling: miners often work in tunnels just one metre high at depths of 3½ kilometres and temperatures of over 28° C.
  • Safety standards are abysmal: 681 miners were killed in gold mines alone last year and 1.351 suffered "reportable injuries” — the majority of which involved permanent disability. In 1986, in a single explosion at the Kinross gold mine 177 workers were killed.
  • Black miners are often migrant workers. compelled to live in over-crowded hostels in mine compounds, with up to 24 men sharing a room. Many workers go months without seeing their families left behind in the “homelands'.

Such conditions are as old as the mining industry but it is only recently that black mine workers have had the organisation and strength to challenge them through strike action.

The Growth of Black Trade Unionism
Until the 1950s the colour bar forced black workers to remain in unskilled work by reserving skilled jobs for whites. Any black worker who caused trouble for the bosses could easily be sacked and replaced by another from the pool of unemployed black labour. However, with the expansion of industry since the 1950s came the need for greater numbers of skilled and semi-skilled workers — a need which the white working class could not fulfill. Black workers were trained to make up the shortfall. But skilled black workers could not be sacked and replaced so easily as unskilled workers, as was demonstrated by a series of strikes in Durban in 1973. Although black trade unions were still officially illegal, embryonic unions entered into bilateral negotiations in individual factories over union recognition. By the end of 1975 the new unions had approximately 14,000 members.

The Soweto uprising in 1976 led to a series of state-initiated reforms in a belated attempt to head off further serious confrontations. The Wiehahn Commission was set up and reported in 1979, recommending a series of reforms including the recognition of "legal" strikes; the granting of union rights to migrant workers (initially union rights had only been conceded to black workers with permanent rights of residence in the urban areas in an attempt to create a more privileged stratum of blacks); the dismantling of the colour bar in employment; and the setting up of conciliation and arbitration structures. By the beginning of 1986 about 20 per cent of South Africa's labour force had joined trade unions at 3,500 workplaces.

However, from its birth the trade union movement in South Africa has been divided. Until 1985 there were three separate trade union structures: the Federation of South African Trade Unions (FOSATU) composed mainly of auto and textile workers' unions; the Council of Unions of South Africa (CUSA) which was inspired by the black consciousness movement and recognised no common links with white workers (the NUM was, at this time, CUSA's largest affiliate) and finally "community unions" - general unions which organised locally, across industries.

The division was not just organisational but reflected different ideas about tactics and the role of trade unions in the wider political struggle against apartheid. The "community unions" and CUSA argued that it was necessary to unite with other "progressive" forces and so affiliated to the ANC-dominated United Democratic Front. They also adopted a more overtly political stance, arguing that real advances for black workers could only be won in the political arena. FOSATU, on the other hand, concentrated more on traditional areas of concern to trade unions — securing better wages and conditions for their members.

The division between the two tendencies in black trade unionism reached a crisis point at the time of the 1984 township rebellions. As a result the Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was set up, composed of the FOSATU affiliated unions, the "community unions" and the NUM (which, by this time, had split from CUSA which, in turn, had merged with another black consciousness federation). The aim was to build one strong trade union movement — an aim that to a considerable extent has been achieved. But the debate within COSATU has continued. Some of the major unions have adopted the ANC's "Freedom Charter" which, among other things, calls for nationalisation. Other unions within the movement are unhappy at what they see as too close links with the ANC, have opposed adoption of the "Freedom Charter" and the sending of a COSATU delegation recently to meet ANC leaders in exile in Lusaka.

The development of black trade unions during the 1970s and 1980s has been condoned by both government and bosses. Since the changing nature of employment in South Africa had made unions more or less inevitable despite legal bans, there was a general feeling — reflected in the Wiehahn Commission's report — that it would be preferable if they were legal and subject to restrictions, rather than underground and difficult to control. So attempts were made to co-opt more conservative trade union leaders, while at the same time intimidating the militants through arrest and detention.

The Mine Workers' Strike
The miners' strike demonstrated the organisational capacity of what are still very young black trade unions. The NUM was formed as recently as 1982 and yet it still managed to stage a three week strike with the aim of bringing out 200,000 workers at 28 gold mines and 18 coal mines. It was also a different kind of strike in that it was first and foremost about wages and conditions, unlike previous strikes which had been stoppages of limited duration to commemorate particular events, like the Soweto uprising. The ability of the NUM to mobilise so many workers clearly surprised the mining bosses as did the unions' decision to instruct members to return home, which had the effect of lengthening the strike. For many miners' the journey home took several days. It would take time for a message to reach them to let them know that the strike was over and more days would be lost during their return journey from the "homelands". Furthermore miners were much better placed to survive the strike away from the compounds where they would be subject to threats, intimidation and violence from mine security and police.

Nevertheless, the strike ended in defeat for the NUM. As talks between mine owners and workers collapsed and as, increasingly, the strike was seen as a trial of strength between union and bosses, strikers were sacked and others were given an ultimatum — return to work or face dismissal. As sacked workers returned to their "homelands", other black workers were queuing up to take their places. For example, in poverty-stricken Lesotho, 60 per cent of the work force is employed in South Africa, the vast majority in the mines and the earnings of these workers constitute 52 per cent of the country's gross domestic product. With unemployment in Lesotho running at about 50 per cent the mine owners had a readily available pool of surplus labour to use to break the strike.

Trade Unions and Apartheid
The growth of black trade unionism in South Africa has been an inevitable consequence of capitalism — workers must combine to take action to defend and advance their pay and conditions of work. And, as everywhere else, trade unionism reflects both the strength and the weakness of the working class. Workers' strength lies in their ability to force concessions from employers through united action and the judicious use of the strike weapon. Their weakness lies in the fact that trade union action is a product of capitalism and presupposes the existence of capitalism. So long as workers engage only in trade union action they can only defend their position within capitalism and never win for themselves all the benefits that they could have.

The peculiar conditions that apartheid imposes add a further complication to trade union activity in South Africa. Black trade unionists are struggling against both the pressures imposed on them as workers by the capitalist system of wage slavery and those imposed on them as blacks by the apartheid system. COSATU reflects the dilemma that this poses: it is a multi-racial union organisation and as such recognises that, despite attempts to divide them, black and white workers share a common class interest. But it also has close links with the ANC whose aim is not only the abolition of apartheid but also the establishment of a black nationalist state with an economy organised along state capitalist lines which could not be in the interests of South African workers - black or white.
Janie Percy-Smith

Finding a solution to crime (1987)

From the November 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Never a day goes by without politicians, policemen and the press calling for measures that will make "law and order" enforcement more effective. Many of these schemes are suggested by fully-fledged crackpots like James "off with their goolies" Anderton and are viewed as ridiculous by most people. Heart of the Matter (BBC1. 10.40pm. 4 October) offered us an insight into the latest schemes for detecting and solving crime. We were given a glimpse of the pilot scheme known as "Crimestoppers Anonymous" which is currently in operation in Great Yarmouth where you stand to gain a reward for information that leads to the apprehension and conviction of someone who has committed a serious crime. The local media are used as a means of advertising the specific crime that the police want solved, and of course the reward money. Who are the sponsors of this reward money? Well, guess what, they just happen to be local businessmen who of course want to retain their anonymity. No doubt they just couldn't stand being congratulated for their humanitarian service to the community!

Some expert saw it as an extension of the neighbourhood-watch schemes and the high-profile TV programme Crimewatch UK. A holy bloke from the Church of England Board of Social Responsibility came on and was sad that "Merrie England" seemed to be losing its sense of "civic duty". A lefty came mumbling in with remarks like it was a scheme for Thatcher's '80s. ie the privatisation of criminal information.

The most sensible statement about Crimestoppers Anonymous was that it resembled game shows —simply phone in and get your reward. Think of the possibilities and the TV ratings. You could grass on your grandparents, finger your father, nark on your neighbours, or simply find the felon in The Price is Right. None of the experts and civil libertarians on this show had anything to say about why people commit crime, they simply talked about the morality of paying for information and wondered why people didn't come forward with information to help the police solve crimes. No one seemed aware that the porkers have been paying for information (unofficially) since they were set up. No one accepted that many people may well be justified in their suspicion of the police, and of course nobody phoned in with information about the cops having assaulted demonstrators, black youths, passers-by. or men and women on picket-lines. And. incidentally, no one asked why local businessmen were putting up the reward money!
Derek Devine