Letters to the Editors from the February 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
Are Unions Useless?
From time to time through the columns of the S.S. you have made the following points:-
- You warn workers to beware of reforms and illusions.
- You acknowledge the importance of trade union organisation for the defence of wages and working conditions.
- You state that taxes is not a working class issue.
Here are my views; would you please comment on them.
- I agree that workers must become aware of the uselessness of reformist action, which leads me to
- I believe that the trade unions are as much a part of the state as the DHSS or the Housing Department. Like them they are reformist in as much as they can only secure for the worker that which capitalism will allow. The unions are also a hindrance to the workers’ material advancement and political awareness due to their allegiance to the Labour Party and the concessions they give this capitalist party, on behalf of the workers, by agreeing to and helping the workers to swallow pay restraint etc. They also foster among the workers the notion that people can be led to socialism (the leaders being the TUC and the Labour Party). They would have us believe that the only barrier to socialism is the Conservative party and Idi Amin.
- You hold the view that wages are a working class issue (hence your support of the unions on this); then how is a tax cut any less a wage rise than say the equivalent amount on your hourly rate?
We agree entirely with much of what you say; for example about trade union support given to the Labour Party and Labour government, and the workers’ belief in leadership, but not withstanding all the erroneous policies of trade unions it is not true that union organization cannot serve a purpose useful to the workers.
While it is true, as you say, that trade union action is limited by the conditions of capitalism, that does not mean that the wages and conditions resulting from the struggle are simply what the capitalists would like them to be. If workers gave up organization and struggle entirely their standard of living would certainly be worsened. In Marx’s colourful words ’’they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation”.
When you equate a wage increase with a tax cut you overlook the fact that the worker’s standard of living (the purchasing power of his take-home pay) is the result of the struggle; again quoting Marx, “the respective powers of the combatants”.
This was dealt with in the Reply Taxes and Labour in the January issue.
I am writing to you because I would like your views on these points:
I am sixteen years old, have left school and now go to work. I do not pay tax, but will be doing so next year!
What I would like to know is, if at 16/17, 1 can get married and have children, pay tax, and N.I. I can own a car and pay the insurance, tax etc., have a home, or business, and own a passport, also possibly, smoke, just like may I add an adult.
Then why is it that 1 cannot vote, buy alcohol in a public house, gamble, i.e. horseracing, bingo, etc., see ‘X’ films, and even enter certain clubs, discos?
I think this ’law’ is pathetic. Why should a person between the age of 16-18 have the burdens of an adult and not have the ‘pleasures’? They are still legally children or is the word youths??
I, and many people of my age will never agree to this ridiculous law!!
I have written to various political parties, and 1 cannot wait to read the various reasons for this ‘mockery’ of a law.
I would appreciate a reply.
It looks as if you are unfamiliar with the case put forward by the Socialist Party of Great Britain, so we recommend that you read the Object and Declaration of Principles printed on the inside cover of this journal.
The discrepancies which make you angry are, in general, between laws which governments have passed on different accounts at different times, all in the interests of capitalism. Those which aim to make adolescents “independent” for purposes of government finance come in conflict with others concerned with “public morality”. It is quite likely, particularly if pressure groups arise, that a revision of legislation will eventually be attempted to remove some of the anomalies.
If that happens, don’t imagine that you (or those who are your present age at that time) will be emancipated. Legislation is not carried out for “fairness” or on ethical grounds; the enticing promise is to get you on a more appropriate kind of chain. To give an example, the demand for the voting age to be reduced from 21 to 18 arose largely from military service and the 1950 Korean war in which Britain was involved. The anomaly pointed out was that young men could kill (or be killed) but not vote at 18. Well, then . . .
Why not raise your sights? In the world of capitalism the great majority of people between 18 and the grave would tell you they do indeed have the burdens of adults but haven’t had much chance of the “pleasures”. Socialism offers a world of equal access to everything society can provide, without any section excluded or dependent on permission by authorities.
How Much Has Production Increased?
Can you say what the output or production of goods and consumption of same are in England today? Are they ten times what they were in 1925? Money is now ten times that of 1925 and prices are up ten times. After all it is the products we get for money.
Prices were falling from 1925 to 1938 and have been rising continuously since then. The current retail price level is about ten times the level of 1925. (About eleven times the level of 1938).
Official estimates of the “gross national product” give a figure for 1976 about twenty-five times what it was in 1925; but most of this is merely a reflection of higher prices, not a real increase. In real terms GNP may be about three times what it was in 1925. Against this has to be set the fact that the population of the United Kingdom has increased from 45 million in 1925 to 56 million.