Saturday, March 1, 2014

Obituary: Gilbert McClatchie (1976)

Obituary from the June 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard

Gilbert McClatchie (GILMAC) died on 20th April at the age of 86 after a lifetime of activity in the SPGB. Only a few days earlier, on the Friday he had been present at the Annual Conference and had said now pleased he was to be there and how encouraging he found it. In recent years failing health and accidents had resulted in long periods in hospital and in his being largely confined to his home, but his interest in the Party and in companion parties abroad did not flag and he kept up continuous correspondence with members here and in USA and Canada.

He joined the Party in 1910 and was soon fully involved in a range of activities which was to include writing, speaking, conducting study classes and long years of service on the Editorial Committee and the EC. He was already writing articles for the Socialist Standard before the first world war. After the 1939-45 war he was Party candidate in a Parliamentary election.

His father was a farmer in Ireland. Getting into financial difficulties, the family came to England when Gilmac was six years of age. Returning to Ireland in the war Gilmac did a variety of jobs including a long spell at timber felling. He got to know many of the men active in the Irish trade unions and Labour Party and the Republican movement, with all of whom he argued the SPGB case. Some of his articles (on occasion written jointly with Mick Cullen) dealt with the "Irish Problem". He wrote valuable articles on the Russian Revolution.

His association with the Party was an outstanding example of mutual benefit. He brought his wide knowledge of history, economics and the working-class movement to the service of Socialism, but, as he explained, it was the stimulus of his membership that led him to study Marx and many other economists, to read Greek and Roman history and to tackle Hegel and other philosophers and the works of anthropologists. His first acquaintance with Marx's Capital was seeing it in a bookshop and buying it under the impression that it would help him with his job as a book-keeper.

Gilmac married Hilda Kohn (sister of Adolph) and for many years they worked together in Party activities. Between the wars he was happily able to combine his love of books with travelling round the country buying and selling rare works on history, economics, etc. His bookshop, which gave him welcome opportunities to meet writers and collectors, was put out of action by the second world war.

His great knowledge served the Socialist movement well in the formulation over the years of the Party's contribution to political and economic thought. He wrote a full-length book for the centenary of The Communist Manifesto in 1948, covering developments of organization and theory in a century of working-class history. Unfortunately no publisher could be found. He wrote the introduction to the Party's edition of The Communist Manifesto and in 1975 had the pleasure of seeing in print the pamphlet on the Materialist Conception of History.

Late in life Gilmac obtained great satisfaction from several extended visits to USA and Canada where he renewed contacts with his many friends and gave radio and television talks on Socialism. The London Times published an obituary notice in its issue of 23rd April.

His many friends will miss him and remember his work for Socialism. Whatever upsets he had in life and with his health he never ceased to be optimistic for the Socialist future.

We offer sympathies to his daughter Jenny and brother Norman, and their families.

Cooking the Books: Owen Jones’s Hopeless Agenda (2014)

The Cooking the Books column from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard

Writing in the Independent on Sunday (26 January), ubiquitous Labour left-winger Owen Jones proposed a nine-point ‘Agenda for Hope’.  It is essentially a wish-list of reforms to capitalism, as illustrated by the first of the points:
‘A statutory living wage, with immediate effect, for large businesses and the  public sector, and phased  in for small and medium  businesses over a five-year Parliament. This would save billions spent on social security each year by reducing subsidies to low-paying bosses, as well as stimulating the economy, creating jobs because of higher demand, stopping pay being undercut by cheap labour, and tackling the scandal of most of Britain’s poor being in work. An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work would finally be enshrined in law.’
The ‘finally’ is a nice touch since the campaign for a ‘living wage’ was started by the old ILP, then still part of the Labour Party, over 80 years ago in the 1920s. Since Jones has demonstrated in the past that he has some knowledge of Marx’s ideas, he must have chosen the phrase ‘an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work’ deliberately. It is of course a modern version of the demand for ‘a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work’ which Marx, in a talk to British trade union leaders in 1865, described as a ‘conservative motto’ as opposed to the ‘revolutionary watchword’ of ‘abolition of the wages system.’

Jones does not give a figure for what he considers to be a living wage. At the moment the so-called living wage which some employers and especially local councils have agreed to pay no one less than is £8.80 an hour in London and £7.65 in the rest of the country, compared with the legal minimum wage of £6.31 an hour. This ‘living wage’ is only about £15,000 for a year of full-time employment outside London. Although this would be an improvement on what many workers are getting now it is hardly a living wage in any reasonable sense of the word ‘living’.

What Jones is advocating is a legally-decreed wage increase for millions of workers. This is unlikely to have the effect he intends. It could well ‘save billions spent on social security each year by reducing subsidies to low-paying bosses’. The Tories are on to this too and favour an increase in the minimum wage for precisely this reason. On the other hand, it could lead to employers laying off workers or even going out of business, so augmenting the ranks of the unemployed and social security payments to them. Not that the cost of social security should be of concern to workers. It’s only a problem for the capitalist class since they pay for it.

One thing it won’t do is stimulate ‘the economy, creating jobs because of higher demand.’ Since the extra wages will have to be paid by employers this will not result in any ‘higher demand’; the increase in demand resulting from higher wages (to the extent that it happens) would be offset by a fall in demand derived from employers’ profits. It’s a zero-sum game. So it won’t stimulate the economy or create extra jobs. In fact, since it is profits not wages that drive the economy, the reduced profits could have the opposite effect.

Owen Jones has failed to grasp that capitalism is not a collection of random bad things that can be tackled piecemeal. It’s an economic system with its own mode of functioning that cannot be reformed by legislation to work other than as a system that gives priority to profits not wages and which has to be done away with altogether in one revolutionary change.

Rock bottom (1986)

From the March 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Red Wedge is a campaign by rock musicians aimed at conning young workers that voting Labour is in their interest. It is a cynical tactic employed by a party which, despite the idealistic intentions of some of its supporters, is in the business of forming a government to run the capitalist system of inequality, exploitation and insecurity.

The campaign strategy is simple: concerts are sponsored by the Labour Party and young workers are sold tickets promising a good night out. Then comes the propaganda. Billy Bragg or Paul Weller sing a few songs and then pass some comments on the need to get Kinnock into Number Ten. They might just as well advise people to try disco dancing on the M1. Waiting in the wings at all Red Wedge concerts are a few Labour MPs—carefully selected ones who don't use long words or talk about the need to recognise the realities of the world market. Their job is to make big promises, like drunks in pubs who tell you that if you  come back tomorrow night they'll be drinking with Samantha Fox. Recipients of these giant-sized whoppers are supposed to leave the concert with a burning desire to vote Labour. 

This all comes as music to the ears of Labour leaders like arch-opportunist, Robin Cook, who has observed that
At the next election there will be four million first-time voters who were too young to vote in 1983. Norman Tebbit might ponder with profit on how they will vote on the day of reckoning, and his campaign advisers could usefully remind him that it was a majority among young people that secured the election of a Labour government in 1964 and in 1974. (Guardian, 7 February)
So, the Labourites are again hoping for electoral success on the basis of anti-Tory feeling by workers too young or too forgetful to know that Labour-run capitalism is just as bad for the working class. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of Labour's strategy is its negative appeal: in general, workers are not told that Labour will do anything great—rather, Kinnock has been at pains to stress how little he would try to change—but are urged to rally under the pink flag because "anything must be better than Thatcher". In short, the Labour Party is depending on a rejection of the present, rather than plans for the future.

Paul Bower, Labourite co-ordinator of the Red Wedge con-trick, has a pessimistic view of the mental capacity of young workers. Indeed, he is condescending in the extreme:
Leaflets convince nobody. Meetings convince nobody . . . Why push a leaflet through somebody's door? They're probably so depressed they don't want to read it. A woman's come home from doing a cleaning job. She's too tired to read bloody boring leaflets. Also, people aren't literate in the same way that they were twenty years ago . . . they don't sit down and read books in the same quantities that they used to. I read books all the time. I love books. But I'm the product of a very different society than Britain between 1979 and 1985. (LAM, 28 January) 
What patronising nonsense! If Labour leaflets and meetings "convince nobody"—and we are glad to hear this from one of the party's promoters—perhaps it is because workers are sensible enough to reject the message they are being fed. Are we also to believe that women who go out to work are too mindless at the end of the day to examine "bloody boring leaflets"? What Bower must understand is that bloody boring parties inevitably produce them and workers will rightly throw them away. How often have socialists been told "Don't bother putting any of that socialist stuff through my door; I've seen it before and I can't be bothered reading all them promises". The propaganda of the Labour Party is a big turn-off, but that is no reason to suggest that workers are unable or unwilling to read anything.

In the USA, that land of bogus freedom and democracy, moderate actors can become President. In the recent election in the Philippines, Marcos and his wife toured the night clubs doing a double-act song and dance routine to whip up votes for their particularly vicious brand of capitalism. Perhaps all this is the necessary direction of capitalist politics, as reformist promises become hollower the emphasis must be on pure showmanship. Maybe we have yet to see the Iranian Ayatollahs doing a barber shop quartet and Gorbachev playing the spoons on network Georgian TV. We have already experienced the sickly picture of Kinnock dancing around in a pop video with Tracey Ullman.

Red Wedge is just another descent on that familiar journey of political opportunism. Of course, music can and always has been used by those who want to express themselves politically. But there is a mighty difference between the passion of the singer who has something to say and the hollow sound of this new gang of party-political mindbenders.
Steve Coleman 

Editorial: Double Standards (2014)

Editorial from the March 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
Thirty years ago this month began the Miners’ Strike which ended in defeat.  But the class struggle continues. On both sides. The recent strike by workers on London Underground led to calls by capitalist politicians for fresh attacks on the organised working class movement. They want new restrictions on strike action, proposals for a minimum service to be provided by London Underground workers like the current legislation around the fire service, new thresholds to make sure a majority of union members vote for strikes rather than just a majority of those who cast their ballots.
A Tory source said 'It's right that we look at issues like ballot thresholds and minimum service agreements in order to protect passengers on vital public transport networks.' Boris Johnson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he supported new voting thresholds on industrial action ballots: 'I think minimum thresholds would be reasonable for vital public transport functions such as the London Underground which has to keep the greatest city on earth moving, on which millions of people depend on for their livelihoods, and people say: 'Oh, well, you only got elected on 40 percent and so on', well I quite understand that point. I just think that there's a difference between a local election or a political election and the operation of a vital public service.'
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT) and the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) had walked out for 48 hours from 9.30 GMT on 4 February in a row over 953 job losses stemming from the closure of ticket offices. The RMT ballot had a 76 percent yes vote on a 40 percent turnout while the TSSA ballot had a 59 percent yes vote on a 52 percent turnout.
Turnout statistics are very illuminating and demonstrate that 'our political leaders' shouldn't have any political power going by the yardstick they want to introduce. The 2012 London Mayoral election turnout was 38 percent of which Johnson got 44 percent of votes in the first round which is 17 percent of all London's electorate. Since 1979 the Euro-elections have had an average 33 percent turnout with an all-time low in 1999 of 24 percent. A real all-time low is the 2012 turnout of 15 percent for Police and Crime Commissioners while a parliamentary by-election in Manchester South in 2012 had an 18 percent turnout. All these capitalist elections are null and void if we apply some turnout threshold on trade union ballots or are the organised working class a special case and in need of legislative sanctions?
Trade Unions are essentially defensive organisations of the working class to protect wages and working conditions, and the strike weapon is a necessary tool to prevent the working class being driven into the ground by the capitalist class’s never-satisfied demands for profit, what Marx called 'the never-ceasing encroachments of capital'. As socialists we stand with our fellow working class in their necessary battles to defend themselves, but point out at all times that the real victory to be achieved is the abolition of the wages system.