Saturday, December 28, 2013

Running Commentary: 'Communism' on the stock exchange (1982)

The Running Commentary Column from the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Communism' on the stock exchange
Among other effects of the coup in Poland was the sudden change in various prices in the West. Shares of various companies which had connections in Poland suddenly fluctuated. The dollar and the mark fell drastically on international currency exchange markets. Various metals, particularly copper, rose in price, some to all-time high spots.

"Gold", one financial commentator said, "was expected to shoot up in price in the event of anything like this happening in Poland, but surprisingly its price has not changed by anything like what everyone expected."

What can be concluded from this? Firstly, it demonstrates how capitalism is an interlinked, worldwide system, the various countries being components within it. It is not the case that each country has a separate economy, only superficially connected with other national economies. 

Secondly that Poland, without any doubt, is part of that worldwide capitalist economy.

Land of the free?
In 1979 one of the few unions to support Ronald Reagan's presidential election campaign was the American Air Traffic Controllers' Organisation (AATCO). They smiled at Ron and Ron smiled at them. As government employees the members of the AATCO had individually signed contracts of employment which made it illegal for them to strike. However, a prolonged campaign to have their pay improved and more importantly their hours reduced from 40 to 32 (the extraordinarily strenuous nature of their work was injurious to their health if sustained for 40 hours a week, casing heart disease and premature retirement) was so fruitless that in August 1981 they decided to strike.

Ron stopped smiling on those workers as soon as they started asking him to deliver the goods and at this stage he dug in his heels and promptly sacked all 12,000 striking controllers. Five strikers were gaoled, in the Land of the Free, one in leg irons and shackles, and 17 others were arrested for defying court orders. The strikers were also punished with a three-year ban on them taking up any Federal employment. Now, Ron is trying to re-introduce a smiling image of mercy and sweet reason. It was reported (Guardian 10/12/81) that although the sacked workers will not be permitted to resume work at the Federal Aviation Administration, they will be permitted to sell themselves to other branches of the Federal state machine. What a decent gesture. Drew Lewis, the American Transportation Secretary, announced that Ron now believes the workers should have a "fair and equal opportunity to compete for any Federal job for which they are found to be qualified". The motive behind this "compassion" is likely to be that as these workers have been quite highly trained the state may as well use their skills.

Fragile China
As we pointed out in the Socialist Standard last year (August 1981) millions of workers in China are now exploited on a piece-rate basis (paid not by the week or month but by the quantity of goods produced, although payment will still necessarily be less than the value of what is produced!)

The Chinese People's Daily, at the end of last year, reported that official unemployment would soon be reaching the "intolerable" level of between six and seven million and in a bid to remedy this problem, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party and the State Council have introduced reforms which will, among other things, end the state monopoly on urban employment, granting workers the right to contract their own exploitation. The reforms will also end discrimination against those employed as collective or private enterprises, giving such employees equal treatment with state workers.

The Guardian reported (25/11/81) a front page editorial of the People's Daily which admitted that the state can no longer provide jobs for all urban workers in its enterprises, and as the economy becomes more troublesome for the employing class to manage and heightened pressure is put on the workers, it is interesting to learn that Peng Chong, Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress is reported to have told a visiting Italian politician that "a small number of young Chinese want to form free trade unions along the lines of Poland's Solidarity because they are dissatisfied with China's docile state-run unions" (Guardian 11/12/81). This development will afford the Chinese workers greater resistance against the encroachments of the state against the level of their wages.

The trend in China away from the strict state ownership of industry and towards the models of capitalism operating in the West—in order to inject more vitality into the economy—is also apparent in the Russian Empire where Tzar Brezhnev has recently condoned a strategy of New Economic Policies. Managers (yes, they have them in Russia, along with banks, five-star hotels and all of your old favourites) are being encouraged to reduce numbers of employees and increase productivity. The redundancies and screwing the workers for more profit will be described as "conditional freeing from jobs" and efforts to "increase the surplus social product".

In Russia there is officially no unemployment or profit. Reports in the Russian official Communist Party Economic Gazette (quoted in the Guardian 3/11/81) indicate that new pay scales are to be brought in permitting exceptionally hard workers (tough luck for the weak and disabled) to receive wages up to 50 per cent above the average and patent royalties are to be awarded to those who can invent techniques to improve production processes which could make some of them rouble millionaires! The reforms particularly encourage financial rewards for those who save energy, and factory managers have been authorised to distribute part of the savings in bonuses. What next? Gold-plated coffins for those workers who agree not to eat any food if it can be profitably sold abroad to further enrich the Russian ruling class?
Gary Jay

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