Sunday, October 14, 2018

Colin Veitch – Pioneer Football Trade Unionist (2016)

Colin Veitch (22 May 1881 – 26 August 1938)
The Action Replay column from the October 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

In July Bobby Moore was honoured with an English Heritage blue plaque, but he is not the first footballer to be recognised in this way. In 2013, Heaton History Group ran a successful campaign to have Colin Veitch awarded a Newcastle City Council black plaque on his house.

Colin Veitch was born in Heaton in Newcastle in 1881. He captained Newcastle Schools in 1895. At Rutherford College, where he studied after leaving school, he played for their football team, then regarded as one of the finest amateur sides in the North East, attracting the attention of Newcastle United for whom he played as an amateur before turning professional in 1899. 

He was a versatile and talented football player who captained Newcastle United during their Edwardian heyday when the team won three Football League Championships (1905, 1907 and1909), the FA Cup in 1910 and finalists five times between 1905 -1912. A one-time schoolteacher, he introduced the idea of using a blackboard to illustrate and develop tactics diagrams in pre-match planning and post match analyses.

He was an activist in the Association Football Players Union (AFPU) set up in 1907. In November 1908 Thompson’s Weekly News announced that several leaders of AFPU including Colin Veitch would write regular articles for the paper, providing a forum for the union’s views. The AFPU began negotiations with the Football Association but in April 1909 these ended without agreement. The union threatened a strike and in June the FA ordered all players to leave the AFPU, and warned that if they did not by 1 July, their registrations as professionals would be cancelled.

Veitch resigned from the AFPU in order to carry on negotiations with the FA and led the struggle to have players reinstated. In August 1909, the FA agreed that professional players could be members of the AFPU and the dispute ended. Veitch was later the chairman of the AFPU, now the Professional Footballers Association, for a number of years. In politics he was a leftwinger and had once been asked to stand as a Labour candidate but turned this down.

He died in 1938 after contracting pneumonia while recuperating on holiday in Bern in Switzerland at the age of only 57. He is still remembered in Newcastle as one of their greatest players.
Kevin Parkin

Security At Zero (2016)

From the November 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
We consider some aspects of working-class insecurity under capitalism, including its history, recent developments and the current situation.
Being a wage worker involves being exploited, creating profits for the employer and being ordered around by bosses. Another objectionable part is the insecurity that wage labour implies. As the markets go up and down, demand slackens off, new technology is introduced, companies restructure and outsource, or unemployment increases, workers can be laid off and find themselves on the dole or forced to accept a lower wage and either shorter or longer hours, or less control over their work, both its content and amount. There are various terms used, including casual and vulnerable employment, but they all point to workers’ problems.

The Industrial Revolution is usually seen as ushering in an age of exploitation and working-class misery. But in Liberty’s Dawn Emma Griffin argues that it had many positive consequences, at least for men workers (these applied far less, if at all, to women and children). One the basis of autobiographies written by workers, she claims that ‘opportunities in the workplace were brighter for adult men in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries than they had been at any other time in the eighteenth century or before’. Before about 1750, for instance, men often suffered much unemployment and underemployment, since in pre-industrial times work was in short supply, and in agriculture it was very seasonally-based. Factory work also offered more stable and continuous earnings than cottage industry. So the Industrial Revolution supposedly made employment more secure, for some workers at least.

Yet the tough economic times of the 1830s and 1840s still led to much unemployment, though there are no reliable statistics. The social researcher Henry Mayhew, whose studies covered 1849–51, believed that ‘only about a third of the labouring people in the country were fully employed, another third were partially employed, and the remaining third wholly unemployed at any given time’ (J.F.C. Harrison: Early Victorian Britain).

The point here is not how accurate the picture presented by Griffin is, but to emphasise that the poorest part of the population have traditionally endured much insecurity in terms of employment as a result of their subordinate status. Even if this was, to some extent and for some people, allayed by the coming of industrial production, the problems and insecurity have remained since the days she was writing about.

Probably the best-known example of the use of casual labour was in the docks, where tides and weather affected the number of ships that needed loading or unloading at any time, and trade in foodstuffs in particular was subject to large seasonal fluctuations. Dock workers could be taken on for just a few hours, and were paid when the work was completed. The number of dockers needed during peak periods meant that at other times many were left idle and unpaid. Various inquiries were held, and recommendations made, and workers and unions demanded better treatment, but it was not until 1940 that much was done, when it became apparent that docks and their workers would play a crucial role in the Second World War. From 1941, under the National Dock Labour Corporation, dockers had to present themselves for work twice a day, and were paid a ‘retaining allowance’ if not actually employed. The post-war Dock Workers’ (Regulation of Employment) Act of 1946 enabled greater regularity of employment, and pay if not employed.

One of the modern-day versions of casual employment is the so-called zero-hours contract. These have no proper legal status, but the idea is that under them the worker is not guaranteed any hours of work, and can be called into their workplace to labour for whatever time the employer needs them for. They are popular with employers but not with workers, and they are illegal in many countries, France for instance. Some workers supposedly like the flexibility implied, since they can turn down any request to work and do not need to work for the employer if they do not want to (for childcare reasons, perhaps). Except, of course, that this flexibility is largely illusory, as being dependent on a wage is what defines their position in the working class: refusing work means no pay, just as not being called in for work does. And turning down work may make it less likely you will be wanted in future. This is what being on a zero-hours contract is like: not knowing how much work you will have in any week or month, so having little idea how much you will earn; the constant worry about not working and earning enough to get by.

The official line (from gov.uk) is that such contracts are appropriate in certain circumstances, such as when there are seasonal peaks in demand, for instance at Christmas, but they ‘should not be considered as an alternative to proper business planning and should not be used as a permanent arrangement if it is not justifiable.’

There has been a lot of publicity lately about the use of zero-hours contracts at Sports Direct, but they are used much more widely than this. In September the Office for National Statistics reported that just over 900,000 workers (2.9 percent of those employed) were on zero-hours contracts, over 150,000 more than a year before. Such workers only earn about two-thirds of the average for other workers. Seventy percent of over-25s on zero-hours contracts have been with the same employer for over twelve months, so they can hardly be seen as a stepping stone to full-time permanent employment. Sports Direct, like Wetherspoons and McDonald’s, have made great play of offering permanent contracts to those on zero hours, but this will take some time to put into effect, and will still leave hundreds of thousands of workers in this subordinate position.

Deborah Orr (Guardian Online, 10 September) argued that zero-hours contracts are better than a ‘job for life’, where ‘for a lot of people the reality was decade after decade of turning up like clockwork to do work they hated, and longing for retirement’. But few people truly had jobs for life, and many zero-hours contracts involve boring work that is indeed hated by those doing it. Orr was right to note the spread of zero-hours contracts, but wrong to welcome this, for they mean insecurity, low pay and being at the mercy of the employer and the market, even more so than in the case of the majority of workers.
Paul Bennett

50 Years Ago: Why Socialists Oppose the Vietcong (2018)

The 50 Years Ago column from the October 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard

Vietnam is the latest of the leftwingers’ adopted fatherlands. Before Vietnam it was Algeria, before that it was Cuba, and so on back to Russia. This support for the Vietcong does not depend on what is actually going on in Vietnam, but is rather an expression of the leftwingers’ dissatisfaction with certain aspects of modern society. To that extent it is irrational.

Nevertheless those who support the Vietcong imagine that they are Marxists and it is in pseudo-Marxist terms that they rationalise their support for this nationalist movement whose aim is to set up a state capitalist regime in the South similar to that in the North. The Vietcong is not a socialist movement, and by no stretch of the imagination can it be said to have anything to do with Socialism. But since those who shout for “Victory for the Vietcong” have dragged in Marx and Socialism, we must at least refute their arguments and state why Socialists do not support the Vietcong. (. . . .)

It is not true that the Vietcong and workers are fighting the same enemy. The Vietcong are fighting American capitalism. The interests of workers are opposed not only to American capitalism but to capitalism everywhere including Russia and China. Victory for the Vietcong, as we have already explained, would shift the world balance of power from America to other capitalist powers. This is not something that is in the interests of workers, or something that they should support. There is no issue at stake in Vietnam worth a single worker’s life.

The Socialist Party, then, is opposed to the Vietnam war, as to all wars. We do not take sides. Nor are we hypocrites like those who cynically use all normal people’s abhorrence of the burning of women and children (as if the Vietcong did not use flame-throwers) to get them to support one
side in this war. Such people do not really want an end to the killing; they want it to go on till the side they support has won. Let them at least be honest and stop trying to fool people with their phoney anti-war sentiments.
(Socialist Standard, October 1968)


The Falklands: Doing the Bulldog Thing (1982)

From the May 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some said it was war, to others it was more like comic opera. Most people’s knowledge of the Falkland Islands was limited to what they had read in their stamp album but they were sure that it was a place worth defending against a vile foreign dictatorship. The Argentinians were rather better known, since their football team was once called “animals” by the then England team manager Alf Ramsey, who was not averse to including one or two cloggers in his own side.

The British fleet which was despatched to deal a mighty blow at the invaders of the Falklands sailed out of Portsmouth trying not to look as if it was redundant. It was led by two aircraft carriers, one of which will be sold to the Australian Navy and the other scrapped. Five hundred of the sailors preparing for battle had had notices of redundancy and so had 180 of the workers in the Portsmouth dockyards where the ships were made ready. Among the crew was Prince Andrew (“a serving officer like anyone else”) who truly is redundant but gets paid handsomely for it and who seemed liable to fly an expensive helicopter into battle. It was in a rather desperate patriotism that thousands of workers waved the fleet away: “We have to do the bulldog thing” urged the wife of one of the sailors, perhaps reasoning that a dead dog is better off than a live unemployed sailor.

There was too some bellicose relief. Capitalist powers devote an enormous amount of resources to training their people in how to kill other workers in a war. Servicemen are liable to become frustrated, if all their expensive training and equipment is allowed to atrophy for want of the nourishment of a nice, destructive war. So the Guardian could report: “The men, with their planes and missiles are, after years of war games, spoiling for the real thing”. There was also some relief at the sudden emergence of this external “enemy”, who are always useful in helping persuade workers to accept sacrifices. And sacrifices, as the dole queues get longer and prices rise and rise, are what British capitalism wants from its workers right now.

The government’s acute discomfiture at the “humiliating affront to this country” (the departing Lord Carrington’s description) was in large part due to the fact that they had based a lot of their electoral appeal on the promise to be strong on “defence”. Was the Iron Lady to be foxed by a bunch of gibbering foreigners who spend all their time turning out cans of poisoned canned beef? Would the Tories ever live it down? There was much praise and sympathy for the hugely suave, hugely wealthy, Lord Carrington. Even American Secretary of State Alexander Haig had a good word to say for him, forgetting that only recently he called him a “duplicitous bastard”. Carrington didn’t need sympathy; he retired in good order to his acres in Buckinghamshire, a green and pleasant county of which he owns a substantial amount.

There was nothing comic about the Labour Party’s nauseous frenzy to exploit the situation. It was almost as if a general election had already been called. In the Commons on March 30, Denis Healey accused the government of being “caught with its trousers down in the South Atlantic—a phrase for the connoisseurs of Healeyisms. Callaghan, pretending to be helpful, recounted how much better the interests of British capitalism had been looked after when he was responsible, In 1977, he claimed, there was a similar crisis but the Labour government resolved it secretly, with a combination of military threat and diplomatic pressure. No MP took Callaghan’s trousers down by asking why the leader of a party which once claimed to stand for international working class interests should be fishing in the murky waters of capitalist diplomacy. In fact, Carrington had been following the same policy—on this issue, as on others there is no difference between Tories and Labour—but his bad luck was that the Argentinian rulers were under pressure to call his bluff and the whole thing was played out in public.

Of course the real star of the Labour benches was Michael Foot. Belying his reputation as a doddering, ineffectual bungler, the Labour leader lashed the government for their “betrayal of those who looked to it for protection” (he was not talking about workers struggling to live on social security). “We should not”, he raged, “see foul, brutal aggression successful in our world”. (He was not attacking the record of past Labour governments on Korea, Malaysia, Biafra, Vietnam . . .) Foot’s speech was applauded by the MPs as a flag-waving, drum-banging demand for the war in which, of course, he would not personally be in the front line. It was, we remember, only a few months ago that he won an affectionate ovation at a Labour Party gathering by describing himself as “an inveterate peacemonger”.

Many Tory MPs were delighted with Foot’s performance. One sure way of winning their respect is to make a speech calling for workers to be sent off to war. One of the more effusive—or perhaps he had merely lunched well—gurgled, “For once, you truly spoke for Britain”. There was no report that Foot so much as blushed at this insulting compliment (a few days later he was calling himself “an international democratic socialist”), nor that he was perturbed by Labour MP George Foulkes’ warning that “inevitably thousands of British troops will be killed”. The Labour Party has never flinched from the prospect of workers dying in the conflicts to protect their masters’ interests, especially if an inveterate votes-monger like Foot may be able to translate their deaths into an election win.

The Conservatives, also worried about their political standing, simply tried to shelter in a measure of fantasy. Thatcher declared:

The Falkland Islands and their dependencies remain British territory , , , It is the government’s objective to see that the Islands are freed from occupation and returned to British administration at the earliest possible moment.

But in the reality of world capitalism 1982, places like the Falklands are not defensible by any available British force for any length of time. British foreign policy has been based on that reality for some time now. In historical fact the “British administration” of the Islands was itself an “occupation”. The British settlement of the Falklands was contested by France, Spain and Argentina, from the latter half of the 18th century. The Spanish were there until 1806, when the Argentinians threw them out and in 1833 a British force arrived and, politely but firmly, ejected the Argentinians. The Prime Minister of the day made it plain that the British ruling class would not allow ” . . . any other state to exercise a right as derived from Spain, which Britain had denied to Spain herself”. This has never been accepted by any Argentinian government and, at the very least, they have registered an annual protest. Children there are taught about the perfidy of the British over the Falklands, rather as British children have been taught about the Germans, French, Japanese, Argentinians . . .

In 1851 a Royal Charter—the official sanction to the exploitation of the resources and the people—was granted to the Falkland Islands Company and since then the Islands’ economy has been dominated by that company. The FIC owns nearly half the land, a third of the sheep (wool is the Islands’ only product of any significance) and employs over one sixth of the population. It controls the bank, the dock and the supermarket. In 1972, after a brief spell of ownership by an offshoot of Slater Walker, the FIC was taken over by Charrington Industrial Holdings, which has big interests in fuel distribution and was probably attracted by the FIC stake in the islands’ transport and warehousing and the possible presence of oil. Argentinian investors almost pulled off a stealthy take-over in 1977 but this was thwarted, partly by the Foreign Office. Charrington seemed shaken by the experience, and declared that they would never sell out to a foreign concern. Soon afterwards they were themselves taken over by Coalite, a company based in Derbyshire. Through all these machinations the workers of the Falklands plodded on, in the bare, windswept landscape, raising sheep and turning out the surplus value for whichever bunch of capitalists was appropriating the wealth they had produced.

Those workers are in the main descendants of the Scottish, English and Welsh who went to the Falklands after 1851. Most families are tenants of the FIC and live in tied cottages which they must leave when they are too old to be exploitable any longer. Until recently the majority of members of the Legislative Council were nominated by the British government. If the Falklanders prefer this kind of feudal paternalism it can only be because they think—with good reason—that that life under Argentinian military rule has even less to offer them. A final irony is that, if any of them tries to take refuge in Britain they will have no automatic right of entry. The Foreign Office has promised them special concessions but, although they hold British passports, they are legally excluded because they are defined as non-patrials under the 1971 Immigration Act.

Behind the feigned concern for the fate of the Falklanders is the fact that for a long time it has been British policy, under Labour and Conservative governments, to phase the Islands over to Argentine rule. As James Callaghan pointed out in the Commons on April 7, in a brief respite from his jingoism, there had already been negotiations about the British hold over the Falklands, which might have led to some sort of leaseback arrangement with Argentina. In 1971 a commercial agreement gave Argentina a near monopoly in fuel supply and air travel and the first big runway at Port Stanley was Argentinian built. The Director General of the Falkland Islands Office in London had this to say, about the British attitude to their efforts to resist this trend: “We have consistently not been getting sufficient support from the Foreign Office these last twelve years”.

Naturally a lot of publicity was given by the British media to the transparent cynicism behind the invasion. Argentina is another country in the grip of a severe recession. At the end of March a trade union demonstration against the effects of unemployment and rising prices brought some of the worst civil disorder since the military took over in 1976. But the move against the Falklands brought a miraculous change; patriotic frenzy swamped the reality of the workers’ parlous condition and of the murderous repression by which the Argentinian rulers defend their position. As the news came through there was another demonstration but this time the Argentinian workers were chanting support for Galtieri and his annexation of Los Islas Malvinas.

The hysteria and deception on both sides ensure that it will take a long time to purge the Falklands crisis of historical myth. It will be written up as an affair of honour; the Argentinians will describe it as a blow against foreign imperialism and the British as a defence of human rights. But the wars of capitalism have never protected human rights; in truth they have damaged those rights, at times destroyed them. Diplomacy—one of the practised arts of the capitalist system—cannot be an affair of honour; it must function by double-cross, concealment, treachery and lies.

So British and Argentinian servicemen went across the ocean to do battle with each other in their masters’ cause. It was another doleful example of ignorant workers being easily duped by the empty jingoism of desperate politicians. Animals do it better; at least they don’t take themselves willingly to the slaughterhouse.
Ivan