Monday, February 12, 2018

The Myth of Cut-Prices (1968)

From the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the last ten years shopping for the weekly groceries has become a much more modern and efficient operation.

The ever quickening pace of modern capitalist society with the introduction of labour saving devices such as washing machines, drying machines and dish washers together with the availability of private and school nurseries has enabled some housewives to drop their chores and their children and go out to work. Consequently time spent waiting in long queues at the butchers, the bakers, the fishmongers, the fruit shop and the grocers has become a thing of the past. Now all such shopping for foodstuffs can be done under one roof in the supermarket.

The working housewife can nip out of the office during her lunch break, dash round the supermarket, buy all her immediate requirements and be back in time for another cup of tea before resuming work. At the weekend, when she has more time to spare, she can browse round the store at her leisure. The shelves are attractively laid out, and the goods displayed in such a manner that the higher priced items are made more easily available by being placed on popular eye-level shelves while the lower priced commodities are placed on the slower selling bottom shelves. The displays are colourful and eye-catching (usually containing one popular low priced item together with another related item which has a high profit margin). Soft music fills the air. The tills chatter rhythmically. The butcher shouts some flattering cliches about the quality of his meat. The atmosphere is busy and friendly, not unlike that of a fairground. The housewife is relaxed. She can pick and choose, carefully examine and reject the hygienically pre-packed joints of meat until she finds the one she wants. The tomatoes in the pre-packed trays can be discreetly tested for firmness before buying. Finally when the housewife has paid through the checkout she can go home perhaps satisfied that her care has saved her a few shillings. And why shouldn’t she?

The extensive advertising by supermarket companies on television, in the press, by leaflet distribution and in the windows of the stores themselves often claims that that particular company’s prices are the lowest in the country. When all the supermarket chains are flooding the workers’ minds with such advertising it can be almost convincing and certainly confusing. Further a seemingly logical supposition would be that such intense competition between different supermarket groups operating in closely knit areas would force prices down. But are these the facts? Is the price structure of one group lower than the price structures of others? Does competition between the groups force prices down?

In the so-called “cut price war” between supermarket groups one essential factor must be kept in perspective— that these groups must make a profit in order to survive. No company has any intentions of cutting its prices so low that it will end up in liquidation. (In the early days of supermarketing some fly by night petty capitalists attempted to jump on the bandwagon by actually cutting prices but they soon ended up bankrupt or bought out.)

During the time of the controversy about trading stamps, about two years ago, a national newspaper took the trouble to make an extensive survey of the price structure in six of the major supermarkets companies in the country. A list of groceries was purchased from each (approximately four pounds worth) and the difference between the cheapest bill and the dearest bill was 1/2. The dearest company issued trading stamps which were valued at 1/-, so the difference was really 2d. Newspapers seem to delight in surveys and opinion polls; however in this instance it was unnecessary. A simple examination of the economics of the situation would have sufficed.

The successful companies are making an annual net profit of 4 per cent. Let us assume that one were to cut its retail price structure by as little as 2½d. in the pound. This apparently trifling sum would reduce the gross profit by more than 1 per cent and, consequently (all other expenses being equal) the net profit would drop below 3 per cent—more than a 25 per cent drop in net profit. To make it clearer let us further assume that the company has 600 branches each averaging in turnover £3,000 per week or £156,000 per year. The total annual turnover would be £93,744,000. Therefore a reduction in its retail price structure of 2½d. in the pound would result in an annual drop in the net profit of £39,000. Any managing director on the board of any supermarket chain who produced such a result through his ambitious tactics in the “cut price war” would, needless to say, find himself out of a job.

Nevertheless the “cut price war” must go on. But without cutting prices how can it go on?

By creating a cut price image and that is precisely what they do—by using skilful advertising, mentioned before, and by several other shrewdly presented methods of salesmanship. For example the stores must, of course, be clean but not clinically clean. (A store which is all white tiles and streamline can give an impression of high prices. It can also lack atmosphere and repel customers). Tumble displays and baskets containing goods which appear to have been thrown in any old how lend a cheaper impression and sell faster than goods in a neat block which looks as if it would collapse around a customer were she to remove any part of it.

Gaily coloured posters and tickets hanging among balloons help to create the required image. But the most powerful image makers are the periodic cut price offers which usually consist of eight items, those being the items most forcefully advertised. At first this may appear to contradict what has been said earlier. It doesn’t, however, and in order to explain why it is necessary to examine how the price structure is arrived at in a supermarket company.

Most suppliers to the food trade have a sliding scale of prices at cost for the commodities which they sell. These scales are based on the case lots purchased—the larger the number of cases bought the lower the terms. Supermarket chains buy in such huge quantities that they command the lowest terms which enables them to sell to the public at a price permanently below the recommended retail price. Conversely selling below the recommended price ensures a large turnover of the particular item and enables the chain to obtain permanently the lowest terms.

Now to return to periodic cut price or special offers. These usually run for a fortnight. The programme of cut price offers is decided on months before they are actually reduced. There are two ways in which the supermarket chain can reduce prices without affecting the gross profit.

First through making a deal with the supplier and getting extra special terms or bonuses by guaranteeing the supplier a substantially larger order.

Second by increasing the price of the commodity about a month previous to special offer fortnight. It may be noted here that what the supermarket customer gains on the roundabout she had already lost on the swings. So there, the trick has been done. Eight items out of 4,000 have been cut in price without loss of profit and the cut price image has been enhanced. In general the prices of food are on the increase as are most other popular commodities. Each week most supermarket chains issue to their branches a list of price increases and a list of price decreases. The former is in almost every case four times longer than the latter. The decrease list contains mostly items which are in poor demand.

Due to mergers and takeovers there are cases where two supermarkets, practically next door to each other, trading under different names but owned by the same company, operate the same price structure. In fact, the “cut price war” between the supermarket groups isn’t as bloodthirsty as they would have us believe.

Finally let us take a quick look behind the counter. In most supermarket chains each supermarket is a unit in itself and must pay for itself, it must make a profit. Any weak links in the chain are closed down. To see that the unit makes a profit is the responsibility of the supermarket manager. The expenses incurred in the running of the store (heating, lighting, refrigeration, window cleaning, shop cleaning, etc.) are more or less constant. However one of the expenses which can fluctuate is the wages bill. The wages bill is composed of, the gross wages plus company insurance—that part of the cost of the national insurance stamps paid by the company. This bill can fluctuate for various reasons — a fall or rise in trade, absenteeism, staff leaving, new staff starting or increases in N.H.I. The food trade is indisputably the fastest moving of all retail trades and, due to low wages, long hours (having to work Saturdays) and several other pressures it also has a very high proportion of staff entering and leaving the trade. Nevertheless the supermarket companies instruct the managers that they must strictly control the wages bill by keeping it at a fixed percentage of the total sales (usually 4 per cent). In order to make clearer the significance of the wages bill being fixed, as it is, at 4 per cent, ten years ago the wages bill in most personal service grocery stores was 8 per cent. Now staff in a supermarket have to handle twice as much sales turnover. The rate of exploitation has risen in a much higher ratio than have wages.

When a new supermarket opens the pre-opening advertising is magnificent. The cut price offers are almost genuine. The crowds pour in. The staff in their bright new overall dash around enthusiastically, trying to fill the shelves which are being emptied by the customers as quickly as they can fill them. The staff work harder than normal by force of circumstances but their enthusiasm is almost undaunted because they are that little bit happier than normal for several reasons. Some of them were out of work before they got the job. Some have just left what they considered a boring job and are experiencing the feeling that a change is as good as a holiday.

But for how long does the enthusiasm last? After a week or so the supermarket company puts its opening cut price offers back in line with the prices in its other branches. Trade immediately starts to fall and, consequently the wage bill starts to climb. After a month or so half the staff have been sacked for one reason or another; the ones remaining have been drained of their enthusiasm and have rapidly lost any feelings of happiness that they had felt. The job, for them, has become just another unrewarding grind in a world they don’t quite understand.

The class struggle, even more bitterly than before, continues inside the supermarket while the soft music plays on.
H. S.

Party News (1968)

Party News from the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

The North London Branches are co-operating to run a series of meetings on Sunday evenings to compensate for the lack of Central London venue. These meetings will be held at the Three Horseshoes, Heath Street, Hampstead Tube Stn on the Northern Line. It is a very comfortable room and should provide an excellent centre for Socialist discussion in this area. The success of the first three meetings will determine the running of another series in 1969, so please make every endeavour to attend.


The Suffragettes (1968)

From Punch Magazine, 1918.
From the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

In January 1918 Punch signalled the end of the struggle for female suffrage, which had provided it with so much material, with one last cartoon. There was a woman, looking like Joan of Arc, holding a banner with the words “Women’s Franchise”. The caption read simply “At Last”.

In February that year an amendment to the Representation of the People Act gave the parliamentary vote to those women over thirty who held a £5 occupation qualification, or were householders, the wives of householders, or graduates. That was the beginning; in 1928 the Baldwin government, despite one or two diehards still resisting from the last ditches, conceded the vote to everyone over the age of twenty-one, man and woman.

The campaign for the vote was part of a great surge of female discontent which had gathered its force at the end of the nineteenth century. At that time, the full effects of industrialisation were being felt; the old type of home life had been undermined and women had been forced onto the labour market in competition with men. Wherever they could —in the craft unions and, for the better off in the so-called professions—the men organised to resist this competition.

For most women, the one hope of escape from the labour market was by marriage which, since it involved the exchange of conjugal rights for some sort of livelihood, was sometimes stigmatised as legal prostitution. Marriage, in any case, had its problems; the old melodramas about wife beating were based on more than the authors’ imagination.

Yet even marriage was a mathematical impossibility for many. In 1851, for every 1,000 males in Britain there were 1042 females. This surplus went on increasing until in 1911 there were 1068 females for every 1,000 males. The 1851 Census found that, with 24½ the average age for a girl to marry, 42 per cent of females between the ages of twenty and forty were spinsters. [1] 

The unmarried woman found few opportunities for a job outside certain fields. Many became domestic skivvies; others "submitted to the sweatshops in the rag trade or went onto the streets. For the more genteel there was always the dreary treadmill of the governess, of which the 1851 Census recorded 21,000. These unhappy women got their living trying to teach rudimentary mathematics and languages at a cut price to the children of clergymen and stockbrokers, ever fearful of being dismissed, always fighting to preserve their faded respectability to carry on to their next “position”.

Even when, after the turn of the century, women had broken into industry in a big way, their conditions still compared badly with those of men. In 1911, for example, they could work at making army and police uniforms for ten and a half hours a day for a wage of a shilling a day. For four and a half hours’ work basting police trousers they were paid 3¾d. [2] This sort of wage was useless for a woman who had to keep herself.

The reaction to this came when women began to organise into trade unions, and even to form their own union — the Women’s Protective and Provident League. Among the well- to-do it came also in the rise of the “new women”, who demanded that society catch up with the changes which industry had forced upon it and recognise that women could do most jobs as well as men. They were rich enough to argue that their place was not in the home. They wanted the vote as a means of settling their grievances.

When these demands became crystallised into the cry Votes for Women the result was one of the most impressive examples of militancy, beside which Tariq Ali is dwarfed. The most original and determined of the demonstrators were the Suffragettes.*

Few organisations have rivalled the Suffragettes in their techniques of publicity and fund-raising. Without votes and candidates, they could dominate a by-election. They jammed the streets and parks with mammoth rallies. They called up Army reserves with bogus telephone calls, burnt down Lloyd George’s new home at Walton Heath, flooded the organ at the Albert Hall and, in one hectic night in 1914, destroyed three Scottish castles.

The Suffragettes had to endure a great deal of ribaldry, and worse. At one demonstration Churchill, who was then Home Secretary, told the police to deny the women their object of being arrested but to do anything else they liked with them—an order which was faithfully obeyed. The Suffragettes’ answer to arrest was the hunger strike, to which the authorities’ reply was forcible feeding, which was as barbarous and revolting as it sounds. Their ordeals made the Suffragettes’ unity all the stronger, but they did not raise unvarying sympathy; the Socialist Standard for June 1911 made this comment on the rich hunger strikers;
   Starvation, to them, has all the charms of novelty, Self-indulged, it buys a martyr’s crown, clears the blood, and whiles away the prison hours.
It is true that many of the Suffragettes were rich, and many of them aristocrats, and that they aimed at perpetuating the voting privileges which went with poverty. Many of them were moved by the same indignation as a Miss Bancroft of St. Anne’s Manor, who found that the 1868 election allowed three of her male employees to vote but denied it to her. Their organisation was not democratic; it was, in fact, Mrs. Pankhurst’s private dictatorship in which anyone who fell foul of her—like the Pethwick Lawrences—were disposed of.

Indeed, the very tactics of the Suffragettes prevented them being democratic. A lot of what they did was criminal— and crimes cannot be decided upon democratically, after a free discussion and vote. The majority of WSPU members could not know, or influence, what was going on; they had to take the orders laid down by the secret meetings or sent over from Christabel Pankhurst's secret hideaway in Paris.

In time they developed their own notions of sex superiority. In much the same way as the Black Power movement has reacted against Negro suppression with theories of white inferiority, the Suffragettes began to say that men were an unclean menace to Woman’s purity. “Votes for women and chastity for men” became Christabel’s favourite slogan. She also wrote The Great Scourge, an exaggerated and alarmist account of the extent and effects of venereal disease among men and alleged that “only an insignificant minority—twenty- five per cent at most—of men escaped infection from V.D.” [3]

Just as the Suffragettes were hotting up, the First World War, which might have been their big opportunity, finished them. With hardly a backward glance, they gave their talents to the recruiting drive and the scorn which Mrs. Pankhurst had previously reserved for devious politicians was turned upon the men who refused to fight at the call of the government which had so recently tortured her followers:
  Could any woman face the possibility of the affairs of the country being settled by Conscientious Objectors, passive resisters and shirkers? (Queen’s Hall, London, 1/10/1914.)
The popular notion is that it was as a reward for their war work that the women got the vote in 1918. In fact, the vote was not given to the very age and income group which had supplied the muscle power of that effort. More likely, the government simply gave in, knowing that to hold out any longer would have brought a resumption of the whole sorry business.

Since then, one of the central questions of the Votes for Women campaign has been answered. Women have voted, we have had women M.P.s, Cabinet Ministers—we might soon even have a woman for Premier. But the poverty and injustice on which the Suffragettes hung their propaganda are still with us and women have no more idea of how to abolish them than have men.

Indeed, some of the feminists have gone along with the sort of frothy nonsense which it supposed to prove that women are social and intellectually inferior. Here, for example, are a couple of comments—not untypical—on the political scene from a one time woman M.P.:
   I could always tell by Mrs. Attlee's knitting when another grandchild was on the way.
   Mary Wilson (wife of (he Prime Minister) is a sweet girl. Pity to involve her in the political game. [4]
One other question is still to be settled. Women has physiological differences to man but these do not make her inferior; what has often given her a social back seat is the fact that capitalism puts a price on those differences. The employers buy labour power on the most economical terms, which for some jobs means that they must look for labour power which will stay available. These jobs — for example technical, managerial, professional — are usually better paid and are difficult for a woman to hold because her role as a child bearer must periodically take her out of the labour market.

The tendency is therefore to confine woman to the humdrum jobs like typing and simple assembly work where a high labour turnover does not matter to the employer too much. This has the effect of making the man the main wage earner in a family — in the last analysis it is from his wage that the children are brought up and the bills art paid. And the effect of this is to raise the value of a man's labour power above a woman’s, which has the overall result of keeping his wages that much higher. This is not the verdict of a sex war; it is simply capitalism applying its own laws to human beings—and degrading and suppressing not a few of them in the process.

If women are to do something about their place in society, they must first face the fact that most of them are workers, with labour power to sell, just like the majority of men. They must realise that their vote has solved nothing, changed nothing, because—again like the majority of men—it is a vote not backed by an understanding of society. But with that understanding the vote can do more than any Suffragette ever dreamed of — it can bring ". . .  the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex."
Ivan

* The term Suffragette is here applied to what eventually became called the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). There were other organisations in the campaign—for example the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies — which were less militant.
[1] Women’s Suffrage and Party Politics in Britain by Constance Rover.
[2] Women On the Warpath by David Mitchell.
[3] The Suffragette Movement by Sylvia Parkhurst,
[4] Woman In Parliament by Jean Mann.



Votes for Rich Women (1968)

From the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has long been a socialist aim, first voiced by the Utopians, that men and women should be equal in the conduct of social and personal affairs. This was a direct challenge to the Christian doctrine that women were inferior and to the legal contract called marriage which made the wife the private property of the husband. This aim is expressed in our own Declaration of Principles: “the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex”. In other words, the establishment of Socialism would mean an end to all oppression and discrimination against women.

The heyday of the Suffragette movement was the decade before the outbreak of the first world war. During that period also, the Socialist Party of Great Britain was set up. Since political democracy is the only condition in which a genuine socialist movement can become effective, it may surprise some to learn that the Socialist Party not only did not advocate woman’s suffrage but was opposed to the Suffragettes. But we opposed them mainly because their demands were undemocratic; they did not stand for universal adult suffrage.

People often do not realise that universal suffrage was not achieved in Britain till 1929 and that about four out of ten men were excluded till 1918. When, for instance, in 1912 McKenna, the Liberal Home Secretary, introduced an unsuccessful bill to extend the franchise he estimated that there were twelve million men over twenty-one of whom less than seven-and-a-half million had the vote. Incidentally, we denounced this bill which would still have left over two million men voteless as a typical Liberal vote-catching swindle. Only certain ratepayers had the vote under a system called Household Suffrage. The Suffragettes wanted to give women the vote on these terms. The Socialist Standard of June 1908 pointed out what this would mean:
   What are the facts regarding the Suffragettes? Under the pretence of sex equality they are buttressing class privilege. Under the guise of democracy they are endeavouring to strengthen the political power of property. They plausibly propose that women be admitted to the franchise on the same terms as men, and since all Socialists want sex equality this looks attractive. But wait. What does it really mean? Men vote at present under the £10 franchise. The suffrage is thus upon a property basis with plural voting for the wealthy. Therefore, according to the proposals of the women Suffragists, only those women having the necessary property qualifications are to be allowed to vote. This excludes not only all those single working women unable to qualify because of their poverty, but it also bars practically the whole of the married women of the working class who have no property qualifications apart from their husbands'. Further, it increases enormously the voting power of the well-to-do. since the head of the wealthy household can always impart the necessary qualifications to all women of his house, while the working man, through his poverty, is entirely unable to do so.
Votes made by transferring enough property to unqualified persons were known as ‘faggot votes”. We returned to the same point in February 1912:
   As already stated (and it has not been denied) the Suffragettes oppose adult suffrage. The vote to women on the same terms as men as at present would exclude the mass of working-class women (or their husbands) because of their lack of property. It would permit the doubling of the voting strength of property by enabling the wealthy to provide their women with the requisite qualifications. It would deal a blow at the whole working class, and set back the hour of emancipation.
When a Parliamentary Franchise (Women) Bill was introduced in 1910 we were able to show that our opposition to the Suffragettes was fully justified. Even Winston Churchill, then a Liberal, pointed out that its effect would simply be to multiply faggot votes for the wealthy. The whole trend of the debate, commented the August Socialist Standard, “showed how essentially undemocratic is the spirit of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the measures it proposes.” This was also why the Liberal leaders said they were against it. Indeed Asquith earned what must have been the only praise from us (normally we called him “butcher” as he was Home Secretary in 1893 at the time of the Featherstone shootings) for the way he opposed “the hysteric demands of women for the enfranchisement of the propertied ones among them”!

Thus we opposed the Suffragettes because their demands were against the interests of workers, women as well as men. Their proposals would have strengthened the political power of the capitalist class by increasing the proportion of rich people who had the vote. The movement, we stated, was “only a means of providing votes for the propertied women of the middle class, and faggot votes for the wealthy”. They wanted not votes for women, but more votes for property. We warned “the women of the working class are being used for the purpose of obtaining a limited suffrage in the interests of propertied women”. The Women’s Social and Political Union we denounced as “essentially a rich women’s organsation”.

The attitude of the Socialist Party towards reforms is basically that a socialist party should not advocate them as this inevitably leads to compromise with capitalism. This is not to say that all reforms are against working class interests. They are not, and we have never said they were. Obviously some are, and some are not. The Suffragette proposal to extend the Household Vote to women on the same terms as men was and we opposed it for that reason. Universal adult suffrage was a different proposition. We were not opposed to this and frequently said so: “we are of necessity Universal Adult Suffragists” (April 1906) and “we are necessarily and without qualification democrats” (July 1912).

However, we did not advocate universal suffrage or seek support on the grounds that we thought it useful. This was because there were already sufficient workers with the vote to win political power for Socialism if they were so minded. We held that in the political conditions of pre-1914 Britain there was no need to advocate extension of the franchise. The Socialist Standard put this well in answers to queries on this point:
  The Socialist Party is not opposed to Adult Suffrage, but maintain that the working class have quite sufficient votes at their disposal to effect the revolutionary purpose when the class are sufficiently class conscious to make the time opportune. It is a question of education, not of extensions of the franchise (December, 1910).
   While Adult Suffrage would be a useful measure for the working class, to enable them to more quickly and completely take control of political power when they understand how to use their votes, yet as the working class have a franchise wide enough for the initial steps of their emancipation, it is not the business of a Socialist Party to spend time and energy in advocating the extension of that franchise, but to educate the workers in how to use the voting power which they already possess; hence the business of a Socialist Party is to advocate Socialism only (November, 1913).
Of course had there not been enough workers with the vote, as in Britain before 1868, this would have been a different situation.

The woman’s suffrage issue was first raised in these columns in April 1906 in a letter asking for funds from Mrs. Emmeline Pethick Lawrence of the WSPU. In our reply we pointed out that no doubt when the workers had won political power for Socialism one of their first acts would be to introduce adult suffrage, if indeed the capitalist class had not already done so in a bid to ward off their coming dispossession. Demanding the whole baker’s shop, we said, was the best way of getting the whole loaf.
Adam Buick



50 Years Ago: Freedom of Speech and the Press (1968)

The 50 Years Ago column from the November 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Freedom of Speech”. “Free Press”, “Freedom of Assembly" etc. are hypocritical phrases successfully used to muddle working class minds. Under capitalism there is not, nor has there ever been, any of these things.

Before the war meetings could only be had either by direct permission or on the sufferance of the police. Whenever the authorities or even subordinate officials, wished, the meetings were stopped, and the Commissioner of Police could legally refuse to give any reason for his action. Printers offices could be, and were raided and publications suppressed at the discretion of the authorities. After the raid other action — such as prosecution on some legal point might be taken, but this was not necessary, and often was not done.

When the war started the passing of the Defence of the Realm Act brought these powers to a focus and enabled action to be taken rapidly and without the formalities that had been usual in certain cases. The so-called great English charter of personal liberty — the Habeus Corpus Act — is overridden by it, and scores of men and women have been arrested, thrown into jail and left there without trial and even without any charge being preferred against them, and inquiries are met with the curt answer—when one is given—that it is under D.O.R.A. Often they will refuse to state under which regulation even the action is being taken. With this single, glaring fact before us how shallow and foolish it sounds to claim that there is any “Principle of a Free Press", or “Freedom of Speech” for the wage-slaves. They have them not and never have had.

The only way to obtain these “Freedoms” is the Socialist way. That is by organising to take control of the political powers for the purpose of entering into possession of the means of life—the land and instruments for producing and distributing wealth.

In this greatest of all class struggles the workers are quite correct in seizing every vantage point and every opportunity for spreading their propaganda and organisation; but they will be utterly mistaken and will only add to their own confusion by confounding these necessary detail struggles with the central object of the battle or raising them into “Principles” which have no existence in reality.
From an unsigned Editorial in the Socialist Standard, November 1918.

Threat of Famine (1968)

Book Review from the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Famine: 1975! by W. & P. Paddock (Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 42s.)

The authors, an agronomist and a retired State Department official, consider the threat of the most catastrophic famine in world history. While agriculture is now almost static in the undeveloped world, still falling death rales and continuing high birth rates — in some countries higher than had been thought physically possible — combine to produce enormous increases in population, such that already nearly half the people in undeveloped countries are under fifteen years old. Food production can be greatly increased in many ways: birth rates can be greatly reduced, as they have been in the unique case of Japan. But the authors claim that there is no prospect of this being achieved in time to avert prolonged famines involving billions of people. The situation is even more serious than the misleading official statistics indicate.

In the book, the capitalist system is accepted unquestioned, but most of the causes of the present situation can be ascribed to a world economic system not designed primarily to cater to human needs. For example. 95 per cent of world agricultural research expenditure is in the developed world (non-tropical soils). The results of this research cannot he applied in the undeveloped world (tropical soils).

From 1975 on, America will not be able to provide the required food to the “hungry nations" in addition to that needed for domestic and commercial use. It is assumed that Canada, Australia and Argentina will not provide any significant quantities. So say the authors cynically, the "hungry nations" must be divided into three categories: those to be abandoned as hopeless (India, Haiti, Egypt), those which will manage to survive without aid (Libya, Gambia), and those in between which should receive food (Tunisia, Pakistan).

The possession or lack of food supplies could replace that of nuclear weapons as the dominant factor in power politics. We should be glad for one mitigating factor in the chaos and misery of the coining decades, though: "The Time of Famines can be the catalyst for a period of American greatness". This illustrates the depth of cynicism of the book which nevertheless contains some useful information.
S. D. S.

Democracy By Decree (1968)

Book Review from the October 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

Experiment in Industrial Democracy by Flanders, Pomeranz and Woodward (Faber and Faber, 45s.)

This book studies the John Lewis Partnership, a group of department stores and supermarkets employing 17.000 people, that has for fifty years run “an experiment in industrial democracy”. Its introduction did not come as a result of pressure from below. Rather it was the brain-child of Spedan Lewis, the son of a store-owner. The scheme was introduced at Peter Jones, an unsuccessful shop Lewis had taken over from his father. Spedan Lewis believed his father’s shops had prospered by giving good value. It could be improved “if more of its resources were allocated to better pay and conditions, which would attract good workers and encourage them to work well”. The scheme succeeded and was extended to the stores he inherited from his father in 1928. The group has continued to prosper so that:
   Turnover has more than doubled over the past ten years, and profits have more than kept pace . . . Partnership department stores have also been more successful in increasing sales than comparable stores outside.
In a society where goods arc produced to be sold with a view to profit, success can only be measured in terms of sales and profits. In this respect Lewis' scheme has made the grade.

What about the “industrial democracy", then? It consists in the main of elected councils, journals, profit-sharing and welfare schemes. The study shows that employees are more concerned with questions of wages and working conditions than with commercial policies. In fact they have the normal attitude of workers rather than of “partners”. Not that we would expect it to be otherwise. The workers' attitude to trade unions is fairly representative of the industry. Few of the shop workers are believed to be members of USDAW. while the most highly organised are the central London delivery van crews in the TGWU.

The profit-sharing part of the scheme comes up against the same snags in that the workers, having to look after their daily needs, tend to sell the shares issued them. So that whatever the intentions of the firm, it forms part of their wages rather than a stake in the company. Partners opt out:
  The partnership now operates a licensed stock-dealing pool which handles small transactions and arranges to place the considerable quantity of stock which is 'renounced' each year .by partners as soon as they become entitled to it.
One table shows that in January 1966 £13,999,090 or 29.5 per cent of the firm’s capital was issued to outside investors. £5,136.120 was 5 per cent Second Cumulative Preferred Ordinary Stock "most of which was originally issued to the partners under the profit-sharing scheme". This benefits the business and safeguards outside shareholders as follows:
  This part of profit-sharing mainly takes the form of shares which provide a continual flow of new capital, and which rank last in the capital structure, so that the Partnership can offer the best possible security to outside investors, while remaining independent of them for a considerable part of the fresh funds required by an expanding business.
In practice the scheme has served as a means of regulating the employer-employee relationship to get the co-operation of the latter for the benefit of the former.

Capitalism nowadays needs an efficient and enterprising working class running production. Their participation in making decisions has to be tolerated to the extent that it aids the smooth running of industry. It is nonsensical to think in terms of industrial or political democracy in isolation from social activity as a whole. Only in a society which the means of life are held in common will democratic control by society over its affairs be achieved.
Joe Carter