The News in Review column from the August 1961 issue of the Socialist Standard
British Transport’s big loss
The British Transport Commissions 1960 deficit was good headline material for the Tory press. One hundred million pounds down the drain! Didn't that prove how inefficient nationalisation is? This may or may not be true. But there is one way in which nationalisation is very good business — for the people who are prosperous enough to have money invested in it.
B.T.C.’s loss of £100 million was arrived at after £45 million had been paid in interest and other charges. This makes its true deficit more like £55 million. Everybody knows that a private company which finds itself with a deficit in its accounts does not usually lumber itself with an even greater loss by paying out enormous amounts of interest.
But that is exactly what B.T.C.—and all other nationalised industries—must do, because their capital is wholly guaranteed, unlike the equity shares which make up the bulk of most private companies' capital. British Overseas Airways Corporation had a kick about this last May when they announced that their interest payments had transformed an operating profit of £4.75 millions in»o an accounting deficit of £1.7 millions.
A lot of people were taken for a ride when public transport in this country was nationalised, but the shareholders were not among them.
It is not so very long ago that British, French and American workers were being killed in their attempts to blow Berlin to pieces. There is now a possibility that more workers will be killed in an attempt to put the German capital together again. This is what is called post-war progress.
The division of Berlin, and of Germany, has been a bone of great power contention ever since those same great powers decided to carve it up in 1945. At that time, the division was supposed to be one of the essentials of peace in Europe. Everybody expected the usual peace treaties to be signed within a few years.
The facts have disappointed these expectations. Whenever Mr. Khruschev starts talking about a German peace treaty, there is an ominous sound of the release of safety catches. Now the question has the nuclear powers grappling again—and who is to say that they are not edging little by little nearer the brink?
Perhaps Europe has never recovered its nerve from the 1948 Berlin blockade. Another world war could start before the last one has been officially signed into history. Who said that capitalism was fit for sane human beings to live in?
E.T.U. and the Communists
Nobody needed a long and expensive court case to tell them that the Electrical Trades Union was dominated by energetic Communists.
And no trade unionist needed the capitalist press to tell him that it was all his fault and that he must take a greater interest in his union's affairs. Such solicitous concern from such a quarter is, to say the least, suspicious. After all, when trade unionists become sufficiently active to organise a strike for higher wages, they have hardly a friend in Fleet Street.
Nowadays, the Communists are in the vanguard of trade union activity and for this they earn the disapproval of the press. But let us remember that they have been a nuisance to British capitalism only since Russia ceased to he Britain's ally. An upset in the international line-up could make Communist shop stewards useful to British employers, as they were during the last war. We should all be as active as possible in trade union work which is in working class interests. And we should all realise that trade unions should be the enemy of the capitalist class, instead of the docile hangdogs which the newspapers would like them to be.
General Kassem is only the latest of a long line of post-war bogey men in the Middle East. King Saud of Saudi Arabia used to be a bogey man, a fact which was played down when he sent troops to support the British landings.
British influence in the Arab states has been extensively undermined, and the Foreign Office policy of propping up one feudal despot against another has been a comprehensive flop. Most of the despots agree that, before most other things, they want the British to leave.
The oil-rich states are especially anxious to be "free," so that they can make the best of their natural wealth. This is the fact behind the newspaper blah about big brother coming to the aid of little boy set on by big bully.
Kuwait is the Middle East's greatest oil producer, with half of its main concession held by British Petroleum. Apart from its importance as a supplier to British industry, Kuwait is holding between £200 and £300 million in sterling. If this were transferred into some other currency, it could cause a lot of financial trouble to British capitalists.
The troops who have suffered the murderous heat of Kuwait must have guessed that they were not sent there for the good of their health. But it is improbable that they realised that it was all for the welfare of British capitalism.