The News in Review column from the January 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard
Brothers for George
It is apparent that George Brown is not the only capitalist administrator in the world who is worried about wage claims.
This year promises to be a stormy one for the trade unions in West Germany, for it will see the expiry of wage agreements affecting some twelve million workers.
The unions are of course planning to get a new agreement which will give them higher wages and shorter hours; the Metal Workers, for example, are asking for a nine per cent increase in wages, a cut in hours and other benefits.
All this, however, comes shortly after Chancellor Erhard has appealed for all German workers to work another hour a week, and after the Institute of German Industry has issued a forecast of economic difficulties during 1966, when one source predicts that German balance of payments will be in deficit by about £623 million.
Storm warnings are being hoisted, too, in Sweden, where the employers’ organisation recently broke of negotiations with the unions over their demand for a ten per cent wage rise.
The reasons given in both Germany and Sweden for these clashes bear a remarkable similarity to each other, and to those being given by the British government for its current disputes with the unions. Consider these statements:
Germany. “. . . estimated that in the third quarter of (1965) hourly wages paid by West German industry were up by 13.2 per cent over the same period of last year, while productivity rose by 5 per cent." (The Guardian—2/12/65.)
Sweden. “The wage raises in Sweden during the last years have been bigger than the industrial growth and it is not realistic to think that this can continue for ever.” (Spokesman for the Swedish Employers’ Association—20/11/65.)
Britain. “Despite the injunction and the signatures on the declaration of intent, earnings are still going up much faster than productivity.” (Mr. Callaghan, Chancellor of the Exchequer—30/10/65.)
If these statements show anything, it is that the same problems are confronting the capitalist class in many countries at the same time. Many of them are trying to keep wages in some sort of check, and to bargain higher wages for more intense exploitation. At the moment, however, the acute shortage of labour ensures that the unions can push their claims with a fair amount of success.
Once more, the signs are appearing that governments are trying to put pressure on the unions, which may mean that 1966 will be a turbulent one for industrial relations.
The statements also show the problems of the working class are international too —as are the methods by which they try to solve them.
Dare we wish the unions in Germany, Sweden and Great Britain, as they prepare to go over the top to meet the concentrated resistance of the employers, a Happy New Year?
Middle East flashpoint
The assets of yesterday have a habit of becoming the liabilities of today.
Throughout the world, strung along the main trade routes, are many once prized jewels now destined for the diplomatic dustbin. Colonies that were once vital to a Great Power to be defended at all costs, become expensive liabilities once changes in the balance of power rob them of their importance.
Strong points that could command narrow straits with their heavy guns, naval bases from which fleets could operate, or victualling and coaling stations, no longer matter in a world of nuclear armaments.
Sometimes the colony was of no great value in itself, but in the power scrambles of the time it was feared that a rival could make use of it.
Today that world has gone and ideas of Colonial freedom and the “rights” of peoples to govern themselves, become more attractive to the occupying power than to the inhabitants themselves— especially where an artificial settlement has been built up around a naval base or port, and withdrawal would mean economic distress.
Governments who not long ago would have opened fire on a mob demanding Independence, now often cannot grant it quickly enough.
But occasionally other forces come into play and then the liability becomes a flashpoint. Such an area is the Federation of South Arabia with its major port of Aden.
For a century Aden has been the strong point at the southern end of the Red Sea, leading to the Suez canal. It was seized from the Turks in 1839 and became an important coaling station, but its importance has declined. Britain is due to get out in 1968.
But the Federation of South Arabia is part of the Arabian peninsula, which is in a state of political ferment. The Federation's next door neighbour—the Yemen—has been in the grip of civil war.
Rising nationalism and the growth of Pan-Arabism, plus the efforts of Egypt—the strongest Arab State in the Middle East—have helped to produce a situation that periodically explodes into violence.
Then again we hear the sad and familiar story of terrorist bombs and troops firing in the streets.
We also have the familiar story of a suspended Constitution, of Ministers coming and going and of questions being asked in Parliament.
Another suffering chapter is added to capitalism’s history of conflict and. bloodshed.
The price of a bride
What is marriage?
Exploited to the hilt by the insurance companies, the car hire firms, the caterers and the photographers, and worked to death by the advertising agencies who seem to be able to match any message to a picture of a happy couple coming out of church, it is certainly one of capitalism's money-spinners.
It is also one of capitalism’s great deceptions.
Marriage may seem rosily romantic to a plain working class couple the day they take the vows. There’s the ceremony and the people all around and the expensive get-up and the chance to be the centre of attraction. Much more exciting than the factory line or the typing pool.
But the reality which follows is something different. There is the struggle to find somewhere to live, to balance the family budget, the fear (it is very often no less) that children who cannot be afforded will be conceived.
There is also, perhaps, the eventual reality of the Divorce Courts.
And when a marriage reaches the Divorce Courts another side of it is often revealed—the fact that it can be almost a business deal between husband and wife.
Everyone knows that a husband is under a legal obligation to provide for his wife, and for any children born of the marriage. A divorce settlement usually requires him to keep paying his ex-wife a sum fixed by the court.
On the other hand, the woman also has her price, and if a man loses her he can often claim that price from the third party. This requires the court to assess the woman as a domestic, economic and sexual asset. And how is this done? In the only way capitalism knows—in terms of money.
Last month, for example, the Divorce Court heard a case, in which a company director was cited by a quantity surveyor, who alleged adultery with his free-lance fashion designer wife.
The husband at first claimed that only damages of ten thousand pounds could compensate him for his loss, but the judge thought that was too much.
He awarded four thousand pounds to the husband, but more significant was the way in which he justified this decision: the husband, he said, had “. . . suffered a serious loss of a valuable wife, both professionally and domestically”.
This is only one of many such cases. A couple of years ago a divorce judge awarded one hundred pounds and explained this comparatively small amount: “I don’t think this young lady would ever have been a very satisfactory wife. I don’t think the husband's loss in terms of money is very high”.
This sort of case always gets wide coverage in the press, but no newspaper ever asks whether the wife objects to having a price ticket put on her, nor whether the men in the case think it undignified to be engaged in a sort of auction over a woman of whom they are, presumably, fond.
It is typical of capitalism that while it glorifies the institution of marriage it also puts its own sordid standards on it.
Against the tide
For almost every problem capitalism produces there is a bunch of well-meaning reformers, heroically swimming against the tide, who are trying to do something about it.
They sing more often than they swim.
Enterprise Neptune is the National Trust’s name for its effort to save what remains of the British coastline from being wrecked by what the property and building companies like to call Development.
The Trust has produced some convincing—and disturbing figures. The Kentish coast, where so much of recent British history began, was 29 per cent built up in 1958; now it is 50 per cent built up. Each year, six miles of coastline falls to the developers, to their bungalows and holiday camps and petrol stations.
Only nine hundred miles now remains of any worth as a place for recreation and relaxation. The National Trust is trying to raise £2 million to buy up the best bits of it as they come on the market.
But they are up against an enormous problem. Once development permission is granted—or sometimes even when it has been applied for—the price of a piece of land shoots up. A Trust spokesman recently gave the example of an Essex island which was sold four years ago for £1,750 and which is now back on the market, with permission to build one bungalow, at £20,000.
This is no more than an example of the working of one of capitalism’s laws. The Trust’s secretary recently complained that the wrecking of the coastline was caused by “. . . greed for financial profit and . . . enormously conflicting interests . . .”
That is undoubtedly true, and anyone who knows the exhilaration of fine coastal scenery, and who fumes at its destruction, may find themselves keeping their fingers crossed for Enterprise Neptune.
But they should ask themselves why it is all happening. Where does “greed for profit” come from? What causes “conflicting interests”?
The social system we live under is based upon production for profit, and in that very fact it produces a mass of conflicting interests. Sometimes these interests are asserted in planning inquiries—and sometimes they are asserted in other, more spectacular, ways.
Capitalism has been responsible for untold destruction, distortion and degradation—of human beings and of their environment.
This is a desperate situation, and it needs more than charity, however well- intentioned to deal with it.
The Evans affair
Ghouls, and those students of something or other who so carefully study the most revolting details in all the murder cases, must regard the case of Timothy Evans with a special affection.
First there was the original case after which Evans was executed—not very exciting in itself. Then the Christie case, which had everything a reader of the News of the World can ask. Then there was the Scott Henderson Inquiry, to say whether Christie was responsible for the crime which cost Evans his life.
Then there were all the books, and now yet another investigation, by Mr. Justice Brabin.
It is a terrible story. Ten Rillington Place was a hellish house, with its crumbling plaster, its rotten woodwork and the mouldering washhouse where they found Mrs. Evans’ body.
And there among the damp and the decay lived poor simple Evans and his ill starred wife and his pathetic baby. There, too, lived the frustrated, tormented killer under the lash of the deficiency in him which made him do what he did.
They have renamed Rillington Place now, and a West Indian family lives at Number Ten. But such changes cannot eradicate the memory of it; the place remains a festering eyesore in more ways than one, and there are plenty more like it.
There are plenty more people, too, like Evans and Christie. People who are ill and tormented or what the official reports call “backward”—people who are too simple to survive in the clawing world of capitalism, no matter what obvious deceits they resort to.
These people are inadequate, and they are tortured and miserable for it. But by what standards are they inadequate?
There, is little time for such people in a society dedicated to ownership, to exploitation, to the fast sell and the big profit. Social workers battle with the problem but their efforts are puny beside the monster they are fighting. They often give up the struggle, and think themselves lucky if their charges keep out of the courts, or at any rate out of the more serious courts.
Evans never really had a chance and that is something which no bewigged inquiry will ever investigate. Whether he killed his wife and child or not, there is no helping Evans now; the penalty which was supposed to be a cornerstone of our civilisation in his case worked in a particularly barbaric way.
And if the Evans affair is ever settled, what hope will there be for the other misfits of capitalist society? The people who have campaigned so long and hard to clear Evans’ name show no signs of having any adequate answer to that question.
Part of the campaign has been to persuade the Home Office to remove what they say are Evans' remains from Pentonville and rebury them in ground consecrated by the Roman Catholic Church.
This is perhaps the most hopeless part of it all. For the effort spent in restoring to Evans the mythical and worthless graces of religion would have been better used in working for a world where it will be no disadvantage to be less cunning than the man downstairs who has a rope.