Saturday, April 30, 2016

Peggy Sue Got Married (1987)

Film Review from the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Peggy Sue Got Married, directed by Francis Ford Coppola

This is yet another film that attempts to cash in on the seemingly bottomless demand for nostalgic recreations of the 50s and 60s. The story line is a very thin excuse for a sentimental look at American teenagers in 1960. albeit with the benefit of hindsight.

Peggy Sue, played by Kathleen Turner, is the mother of two teenagers and is on the verge of divorcing the husband she met while still at high school. She collapses at a high school reunion party and regains consciousness to find herself miraculously transported back to 1960, when she is just eighteen once again but this time armed with the knowledge and experience gained from adult life. Will she or won't she play her life the same way the second time around?

At first she looks as if she might do things differently this time in order to avoid the painful marital breakdown she knows lies ahead. She takes up with the class rebel who is trying very hard to ape the beat poets by reciting pretentious poetry to her. But the wisdom acquired from experience leads her to turn down his offer of running away to Utah to raise chickens to support his literary endeavours. In the (very gooey) end, love will out. She marries teenage sweetheart Charley again and, as a result of a hilariously unconvincing attempt to resolve the dilemma of how to bring her back from the past, is transported to a hospital bed in the 1980s to find her repentant husband, Nicholas Cage, waiting to tell her that he can't live without her etc.

The director, Francis Coppola, gives the audience one or two nice moments which highlight the changes in social manners and mores that have taken place since the early '60s, such as the end-of-date session in the car when Peggy Sue, imbued with the more enlightened ideas of the 70s and '80s. is trying to persuade boyfriend Charley to make love to her and finally resorts to saying "You would if you loved me!” Charley is outraged: "Peggy Sue, what's gotten into you. That's the man's line!'' But apart from a few one-liners and nicely observed details (like layers of stiffened petticoats) this is an unlikely and cloyingly sweet piece of nostalgic nonsense.
Janie Percy-Smith

The Middle East Cockpit (1967)

Book Review from the January 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard

An Atlas of Middle Eastern Affairs by Norman J. G. Pounds and Robert C. Kingsbury University Paperbacks, Methuen, 8s. 6d.

Even before the discovery of its oilfields, the Middle East was vitally important to capitalism. For this area is the crossroads of the world, where Europe. Africa and Asia meet.

The British capitalist class have always had an interest there, as a result of their possessions in India and the Far East and their colonies in Africa. The decline of the British Empire has made little difference to this, for there are still important trading links with many of the old colonies, links which must pass through the Middle East.

But if the British ruling class has an interest in the Middle East, their influence there is all but dead. Suez was perhaps the final act, the graveyard of British pretentions in the area when the United States showed whose word was law.

Suez was also the political—and perhaps very nearly the physical—graveyard of Sir Anthony Eden. It was typical of the Middle East’s long history of conflict, revolving around its strategic and later its economic importance.

Modem civilisation began in the Middle East, in the great fertile river valleys. Now it is mainly a vast stretch of desert, of oil and of corrupt and wealthy feudal rulers. Oil is now the great king; the Middle East has about two-thirds of the world’s entire supply of it.

Kuwait, which was taken under British protectorate in 1899, has almost twice as much oil as the USA. Production started there in 1946, making the sheik —Sir Abdullah As-Salim As Sabah—immensely rich. The protectorate ended in 1961 but the British troops soon came back when the Iraqis tried to take over. This episode was typical of the Middle East, of its deals, its clashes of interest and its military adventures.

A land apart from the oil sheikdoms is Israel, whose per capita income is nearly twice as high as that of its nearest rival, Turkey. Israel with its developing industries, its modern cities, its military forces and its tourism is the harbinger of the capitalism which must develop in the Middle East and which must transform the economic and social set up there.

The University series of Atlases is a useful collection of small guides. The maps are interestingly drawn and their commentaries full of facts. This latest in the series can be recommended to anyone looking for some quick, easily digestible information on one of the world’s most romantic, wealthy, depressed and fought-over places.

Rear View: The futility of reformism (2016)

The Rear View column from the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
The futility of reformism
'That new soccer ball you just bought your child? If it came from China, it could have been made by workers who work up to 21 hours a day. That trendy mineral makeup on your face? A child in India could have spent long, hot days mining the sparkly mica in it ... click on The website is run by a non-profit working to rid the world of slave labor and human trafficking. By answering just a few questions, the website will tell you how many slaves work for you. Child laborers around the world make bricks, farm, weave rugs, dive for fish, work as prostitutes and soldiers, and dismantle toxic electronics. It’s estimated that about 27 million people work under slavery conditions around the world, many with a direct connection to something you own or use right now' (, 3 March). This site promotes social activism not socialism, reform not revolution. Socialists as individuals may eschew meat, Microsoft, or motor cars, but know until the majority of us wage slaves come to understand capitalism and act to overthrow it, little will change.
Fighting their wars
'One of our servicemen or ­women commits suicide almost every two weeks, figures obtained by the Sunday People reveal. Nearly 400 troops killed themselves between 1995 and 2014. Hundreds ended their misery on military bases over a 20-year period in which we fought battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now victims’ families have blasted defence chiefs, accusing them of failing Our Boys. Karen Bonsall, whose son Private Lee Bonsall, 24, was found hanged in woods near home in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, four years ago, said the figures were the tip of the iceberg' (, 5 March). The way to end war is by removing its cause, capitalism. There can be no lasting peace for the living while capitalism remains.
No war but the class war
'Litter has become a weapon of class war in Britain, where a campaign urging people to Clean for the Queen has stirred both trash-tidying volunteers and howls of anger. The campaign, backed by charity Keep Britain Tidy, urges people to spruce up their communities before Queen Elizabeth II's 90th birthday, which is being marked in June. What better way could we show our gratitude to Her Majesty than to clean up our country? the campaign asks on its website ... But some find the idea of tidying up to honor a hereditary monarch insulting. Graham Smith of anti-monarchy group Republic suggests the Queen put some of her fortune into cleaning the streets as a thank you for her years of privilege' (, 4 March). It is of no consequence who sits on the throne, or whether a republic is established. Nothing will change as long as capitalism reigns.
Another old parasite
According to government figures released earlier this year, up to 2.4 million People in Zimbabwe are described as food insecure. The same cannot be said for President Mugabe who 'has already been in charge for 36 years and, at 92, is the world’s oldest serving head of state. But the veteran leader says he is not done yet. Mugabe plans to live until he is 100 and indicated that he would remain president for life...' (, 4 March). We are informed that a 92kg cake was shared with his entourage and 92 balloons were released on the occasion of his $1m birthday bash. This in a country where the average life expectancy is 57 years and over 70 percent exist below the poverty line. There is no reason for our class to celebrate with former freedom fighter Mugabe on the anniversary of Zimbabwe's independence later this month.
That the United Nations has a long list of failures comes as no surprise to socialists knowing that the 99 percent worldwide experience war and want–endemic features of capitalism. Recent additions to this list include new allegations of sexual exploitation and Zero Discrimination Day: '.. . commemorated on March 1, there was an implicit commitment by the 193 member states to abhor all forms of discrimination...including against women, minorities, indigenous people, gays and lesbians and those suffering from AIDS. But apparently there seems to be one notable exception – refugees and migrants ...' (, 3 March). John Boyd Orr, former director of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, was candid in stating: ‘a world of peace and friendship, a world with the plenty which modern science had made possible was a great ideal. But those in power had no patience with such an ideal. They said it was not practical politics’ (Daily Herald, 29 July 1948).

Small Town America (1987)

Film Review from the October 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Blue Velvet and Stand By Me are both films about small town America and the 'end of innocence'. Both. too. strip away the veneer of conventional suburban life to expose a more sinister reality.

David Lynch's Blue Velvet is much the cleverer, wittily combing genres — psycho-thriller and boy- meets-girl romance — and extending them to their absolute limits. The film opens with a picture of benign American suburban life: white painted clapboard houses, brilliant yellow tulips against a white fence and brilliant blue sky, verdant lawns, cheerful children, serenity and harmony. The spoof becomes obvious when a fire engine, complete with cheery, waving fireman, passes down the street in slow motion. The genre switches to that of thriller when the central character. Jeffrey (played by Kyle Maclachlan) finds a severed human ear on wasteground and sets out to discover who it belonged to. In so doing he enters a sleazy world that he had no idea existed, inhabited by the maniacal mobster. Frank (Dennis Hopper), and the mysterious Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) and observes, and becomes caught up in. their sado-masochistic relationship. At the same time Jeffrey is playing his part in the wholesome romance with "girl-next-door", Sandy.

Blue Velvet is clever, well-observed and at times extremely funny. But there is a serious side to it. Although both sides to the film — apple-pie American and grotesque underworld — are caricatures. they are familiar images. The former could be advertising cornflakes or soap powder, the latter is typical of countless B movies. The fact that reality lies somewhere between the two extremes makes the film no less disturbing.

Stand By Me is less witty but ultimately more subtle. A writer looks back to what was for him two formative days in the summer of 1959. In company with his three best friends, he sets out on a two day hike in search of the body of a child who had gone missing from his home town. The journey begins as a childish adventure but ends with the discovery not only of the missing child's body but also of the unhappiness and confusion of the twelve year old boys as they confront the reality of their own lives and those of others around them. Stand By Me is evocative of childhood relationships, contains some funny moments, but is, for all that, a painful film.
Janie Percy-Smith

Party news (1987)

Party News from the September 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Tolpuddle Martyrs' rally each July, thousands of workers gather together to remember six Dorchester farm labourers who in 1834 were sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia for trying to form a trade union. In the last five years members of The Socialist Party have been active at this event, selling literature and putting forward socialist ideas. Once again this year we stood out as the only movement arguing for the complete removal of capitalism and its replacement with socialism. As is usual the left in general presented the case, in one way or another, that we should all content ourselves with the aim of replacing one capitalist government with another.

Bournemouth Branch, the nearest to Tolpuddle. was well supported by members from Islington, Eccles, Guildford and Bristol. One member from the Bristol branch was particularly keen to help out as he first came into contact with socialist ideas at previous Tolpuddle rallies. The fact that it rained for most of the day did little to dampen interest in the ideas we were promoting and as in previous years our stall was certainly among the busiest and even managed to get itself on a local television programme, TV South.

Workers attending these type of events up and down the country and of course many who don't attend them, are looking for political ideas different from those that in the main were in evidence during the election. Many of those who previously looked to the Labour Party and its left wing allies are particularly open to a growing realisation that these parties no longer offer an alternative, tied as they are to the dogma of a vanguard leadership and state ownership.

One hundred and fifty years after those six farm labourers were transported workers still face state and employer repression for trying to organise and defend themselves. In Britain events in recent years and the kind of trade union legislation which has been passed are proof of this and in many parts of the world workers face far greater repression, including imprisonment and even death, for attempting to organise. The best way to pay a real tribute to workers like the Tolpuddle Martyrs who were involved in the early struggles of the working class movement is not just to organise annual events nor simply to take part in the same struggles over and over again. Certainly workers must organise to defend themselves within capitalism but they must also set their sights on a wider goal, namely to end the system that makes such struggles inevitable.
Ray Carr

Obituary: "Tubby" Spiess (1987)

Obituary from the August 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

With regret we learned of the sudden death of our Comrade Spiess in May. Born in Switzerland, he came to live in London as a small child when his father came to England looking for work.

Tubby worked for many years as a chef in the Merchant Navy, this career coming to an abrupt halt on the outbreak ofWorld War II.,when as a Swiss National, and therefore regarded as a Neutral, he was not allowed to remain at sea.

As a young man he came to know the Socialist Party of Great Britain and to agree with our case for socialism, but due to many circumstances, did not at that time join. At a relatively late age. he sought out the Socialist Party once more, first regularly attending propaganda and branch meetings. then at last becoming a member (of South West London Branch). In the years that he was a member, he could be seen at meetings, education classes and sitting outside Head Office selling literature and speaking and discussing with interested passers-by. Several members joined through contact with Tubby. All his activity was in spite of poor health and disabilities.

He was a gentle man with a gift for communicating. especially with the young, and he had a great affection for both the Party and its members. Tubby will be much missed in the branch and in the Party, and we offer sympathy to his sister, nephew and niece.
Phyllis Hart

Poverty of charity (1987)

From the July 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Poverty in its various manifestations and intensity is a historically marked feature of capitalism. So great is the problem that charities publish month after month a stream of statistics from around the world, each more harrowing than the previous. In November last year we learned from the Child Poverty Action Group that since its formation twenty-one years ago there are now currently twice as many people dependent on Supplementary Benefit while one third of this country's child population live either on or below the official poverty line. Confronted with these statistics, there is a very real sense of impotency. It is difficult enough to help the thousands of destitute in this country let alone the millions elsewhere in the world. It is not as though there is a lack of compassion. Far from it. The money which is donated to charities each year bears witness to this fact. So too does the selfless effort of thousands of volunteers. But what is lacking is any realistic solution to the problem of poverty. The fact that we. as a class, do not control what is produced and have no say in how and where it is distributed means that the problem of poverty can never be tackled in a rational and global way.

Another problem lies with the nature of charities themselves. We do not doubt their sincerity or compassion but they foster the dangerous illusion that, either through increased donations or political pressure on governments, the problem of poverty can be solved within capitalism itself. Furthermore, because charities have not the faintest idea of how and why capitalism functions (they would not be charities if they did), they can only add to the problem. By actively promoting the naive belief that poverty can be solved under capitalism they are doing both those they seek to help (and the socialist movement in particular) untold harm in wasted time and effort. Human suffering and poverty will not go away by appeals for charity. Poverty is part and parcel of a commodity producing economy. Where there is capitalism there is poverty.

Socialists are not indifferent to human suffering but we have pointed out to organisations such as CPAG and War on Want that the technical capability exists to solve the problems of starvation and poverty. What does not exist is the social structure in which technical production and distribution can be matched to people's need. Capitalism is a world of deliberate scarcity, in order to pursue the aims of competition and profit.

In the face of decades of failure it is sheer futility for charities to appeal to governments, or to capitalist organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the hope that they are willing or indeed capable to help. Governments and the institutions through which capitalism functions are not there to solve social problems. They are there to serve the interests of capitalism. Charities should admit that not only have they failed to stem the rise in poverty but they have been seen to fail. That for every one pound that went from organisations like Live Aid two pounds went out again to the IMF in debt repayments is irrefutable evidence that charities, despite their good intentions, have failed badly. Aggressive competition and ruthless profit-making dictate the terms of trade — not politicians or government ministers. Their job is to administer capitalism in the best way they can. Organisations like CPAG and War on Want should face the fact that there can never be an "acceptable face" of capitalism. Charity is not sweet; it is cold deception.
Richard Lloyd

Friday, April 29, 2016

Boredom in the Highlands (1987)

From the June 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Bored with the election? Up in Scotland the campaign has been pepped up with an additional exciting element, the subject that is on everyone's lips, local government expenditure and rate reform. The Tories are getting into hysterics over their proposals for a "Community Charge”, for which Scotland has the privilege of being the guinea-pig. Not to be outdone, the Labour Party in Scotland, lacking any positive alternative to the Tory version of capitalism, have produced something equally irrelevant called the Doomsday Scenario. It's an exciting-sounding term for a dreary idea — that a majority of voters in Scotland would vote Labour but be stuck with Thatcher at Number Ten.

There's only one scenario that could be worse for the average Scottish Labour MP (and let's face it, they're all pretty average). That is that their bluff would be called, they'd be elected, and would have to try and fulfill all those fine-sounding election promises. And what would the Labour-controlled councils do without "that woman” to blame when things went wrong?

It's not true though, to say there's no difference between Tory and Labour. Since Edinburgh switched from Tory to Labour control a couple of years ago, the changes have been obvious: recently there have been big yellow posters boasting about "Defending Services. Creating Jobs". What Edinburgh's "socialism" in reality amounts to is little more than the fact that children whose library books are overdue won't get fined. And you won't get big yellow posters advertising the fact that a few months ago the Labour council — with full support from Tory councillors — broke a strike by public employees by using Tory anti-union legislation.

On the other coast, it's the same story, if under a different slogan: "Glasgow's Miles Better", says a big yellow Mr Man on every bin in Glasgow. Nice to know if you're living in one of the ten thousand houses in Glasgow that don't have a bath. However, for those who are wondering what Glasgow is supposed by be miles better than, then you have to travel up to Dundee.

One of Dundee's two MPs (the other one is only heard from when he's tabling motions in the House of Commons congratulating Dundee United FC on their victories abroad), is Gordon Wilson of the Scottish National Party. Recently he was on Channel 4's Comment spot (reserved for minority interests) talking about the "North-South Divide”. Before I could turn the TV over he mentioned how all this fuss about North and South was not accurate — it was actually an England-Scotland divide. The implication was that the reason most Scottish workers live in poverty is because of all the rich English workers. The only people, it would appear, that go on the dole in the north of England are Tory MPs out for a bit of publicity. And as for London — what do you mean, the streets aren't paved with gold?

Of course the reality is that when young Scottish workers are forced — by the boredom of the Highlands, or the poverty of unemployment — to go south, it isn't quite as it appears in the Daily Record or the Sun, where popstars and princesses, models and millionaires get drunk and disorderly in Stringfellows. The London they find is that of the benefit office and a bed and breakfast, no penthouse or palace. If they do get a job it's shovelling Wimpy burgers down a thousand throats for £1.30 an hour.

"It's Scotland's Oil!" is one slogan we are being spared at this election, now that the price of oil has tumbled dramatically. Regardless of its price of course, oil remains in the hands of the oil companies and those few who own them. They can be Siberian, Scottish or South African, but they're in a different world from the vast majority of us.

Instead the SNP recently latched onto the Caterpillar occupation which ended last April. As soon as an English or American-owned company pulls out, there's the SNP bleating on about Scotland being exploited. They're not in such a hurry when it's some homegrown local parasite that is doing all the exploiting.

The election in Scotland, then, will be the same as everywhere else but different: different because of the added confusion of nationalism, but the same posturing and the same promises as usual.

This time round, there are no socialist candidates in Scotland. We'll be writing "World Socialism" across our ballot papers (and a lot more besides if we get the time). If you feel that what is on offer on your ballot paper gives you no choice except a different leader telling you what is good for you, then give the bored ballot counter at the Town Hall something to read. But do more than that. Make the effort to make contact with your local branch or group of the Socialist Party, and help to ensure that next time round you won't need to waste your vote.
Brian Gardner

More holes in the safety net (1987)

From the May 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

From April this year. most social security claimants will find themselves even worse off as a result of new benefit rates that have gone up by less than prices, the abolition of some benefits and the erosion of others. Although most of the changes to the social security system contained in last year's Social Security Act will not be introduced until April next year, there have already been some changes from April this year which can only mean even greater hardship and deprivation for the most vulnerable sections of the population.

The maternity grant of £25 which used to be available to all mothers without their being subjected to a means test has been abolished. It has been replaced with a new grant of £80 (still not enough to buy all the things necessary when a baby is born) which will only be available to mothers already in receipt of Family Income Supplement (FIS) or Supplementary Benefit. Also the tax-free maternity allowance has been replaced for most women with "statutory maternity pay" which will be subject to tax.

Disablement benefit for people assessed at less than 14 per cent disability has been abolished. (The DHSS cynically rates different types of disability so that, for example, loss of a middle finger is assessed at 12 per cent, and entitles the person concerned to a lump-sum payment). Around 90 per cent of all awards each year are for people who are in this category.

The death grant of £50 has been abolished. Instead there will be a means-tested funeral grant (or loan, when the new Social Fund is introduced next year) for those on FIS. Supplementary Benefit or Housing Benefit. As with the abolition of the maternity grant the declared intention behind this change is to "target" benefits on those who are deemed to need them most. Behind this rhetoric of cost-effectiveness is the fact that for many people birth and death will be events they can ill afford.

Non-means-tested benefits, like retirement pensions, child benefit and unemployment benefit, have all been effectively cut in real terms because once again they have not been up-rated in line with prices. Unemployment benefit - an insurance-based benefit - has become more difficult to get because of a more searching "available for work" test which means that you have now not only got to state that you are available for work, but prove it by showing that you are prepared to travel, take low-paid work and. in the case of women with young children, that alternative child-care arrangements could be made immediately in the event of a job offer. If you do not prove this to the satisfaction of officials then you can be disqualified from receiving benefit for 13 weeks. (The period of disqualification has just been increased from six weeks).

Supplementary Benefit claimants currently get their rent and rates paid in full through "certificated" Housing Benefit. Until recently claimants paying off a mortgage received their mortgage interest repayments in full. But this year the DHSS will only pay half of those repayments for the first 16 weeks on Benefit. In addition to the 4.6 million households dependent on Supplementary Benefit, a further 3.9 million households get "standard" Housing Benefit. In order to operate this scheme there is a notional weekly "needs allowance" - the amount that is officially deemed to be the minimum necessary to live on. Applicants for "standard" Housing Benefit whose weekly income is equal to the "needs allowance" are entitled to a rebate of 60 per cent of their rent and rates. If their income is below the "needs allowance", Housing Benefit is increased and where it is above then there is a corresponding decrease in benefit. Under the new plan for Housing Benefit, to be introduced in 1988, there will be a marked reduction in the "needs allowance" and, as a result, it is estimated that two million people will have their Housing Benefit cut. In an attempt to reduce the impact of such a big cut, the government has this year put up the needs allowance by much less than the rate of price increases. And, at the same time, the amount of benefit granted to those with incomes above the "needs allowance" has been cut so that now, for every pound that a claimant’s income exceeds the "needs allowance" the rent rebate that they will get will be reduced by 33p instead of 29p. which was the old rate.

Eventually the government is determined to make everyone pay at least 20 per cent of their rates which will, according to the Social Security Advisory Committee s report for 1986/87:
result in a real cut in the value of the safety net for the poorest people in society, with increased hardship or increased debt or both. 
There is both an obvious economic motive behind this plan and also a less obvious political one. The Tories have long believed that Labour does well in poor inner city areas where there are large numbers of low paid and claimants because such people are inclined to vote for high-spending Labour councils which also put up the rates. They hope that by making everyone think that they pay at least part of the rates, everyone will also react against the effects of profligate Labour council policies and be less likely to vote them in again. Well that’s the theory anyway, although it seems unlikely that even if this is really how people decide how to cast their vote, that making people poorer by effectively cutting their benefits will make them more likely to vote Tory!

These latest changes to the already grossly inadequate benefit system represent just one more cynical attempt to attack the poorest, most vulnerable people in society in the name of economic efficiency. Not only will the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed and the low paid get poorer as a result, but their lives will be more closely monitored by the state because of the shift away from universal benefits to means-tested benefits. More and more people will now have to beg for their pittance rather than claim it as a "right”.
Janie Percy-Smith

Playing the game (1987)

From the April 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

There has been criticism for some time that today professional football is run as a business; winning is everything because it brings in the money. If that means boring or aggressive behaviour on the field, that’s hard luck on the punters who have paid to come and watch. No longer do butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers, because of a real interest in the game, use some of their accumulated profits to support the local team with no expectation other than that they should do well. Apart from a few exceptions like Elton John who still funds Watford and looks for no financial return, those who now invest in football clubs do so for profit. If a club is successful, with regular gates in excess of 25,000, there is money to be made. Obviously there is only room for a few at the top and with talks of a Super League the atmosphere might get even more rarefied.

Then a new way of making profit was discovered. Crystal Palace sold part of one of their terraces as a site for a supermarket. Although, after hostile publicity, they "consulted" their fans and decided not to go ahead with a suggested merger with Wimbledon. they are also getting rent from Charlton FC whose fans were not consulted on the move from the Valley, and many of whom consequently voted with their feet. After all, shareholders expect to make a profit; players' and staff wages and running costs have to be paid. Television and changing lifestyles mean the days of mass attendances at all but a few clubs are gone. According to the March 1987 issue of the consumer magazine Which attendances have dropped from 33.6 million in 1957 to 16.5 million in 1987.

Recently there has been a well publicised, much more cynical effort to milk the game. Third Division Fulham were in a bad way in May 1986. Its chairman. Ernie Clay had sold the club's movable assets - its players. He also agreed with Kilroe, a property development company, that part of the ground should be used for building luxury flats with a guarantee that football would continue on the ground. Still £6 million in debt, he sold the club and ground as a going concern to another property developer Marler Estates, whose David Bulstrode became chairman of the club.

Shortly after taking over Bulstrode assured a meeting of supporters that Fulham would remain at Craven Cottage for two or three years although his company did intend to build a new stadium and eventually develop the ground. By assuring the local council of this, he persuaded them to refuse permission for the Kilroe partial development, the obligation for which Marler had taken over in the deal.

There can't be many people who don't know what happened next - a sudden announcement, only weeks after that undertaking, that Fulham were to be killed off in a merger with another local club. Queens Park Rangers, whom Marler had just bought. Presumably QPR's ground is not at present suitable for development although the BBC are due to build new offices nearby - perhaps then a hypermarket will seem more profitable on the site than a First Division football club! The Fulham ground at Craven Cottage would be completely built over in a luxury development.

But even property development whizzkids are not infallible. Bulstrode had overlooked two things. The first is the peculiar affection in which Fulham - that unfashionable and not particularly successful club - is held, even by many who have never been there. The second is that, if changes are to be made in Football League structure, they must be agreed by the League management - in effect chairmen of the major clubs, who have their own axes to grind.

Roy Hattersley, Jimmy Hill and Malcolm MacDonald.
The Players' Union saw the proposals as the thin edge of the wedge, throwing players out of work. So the League, the FA. and the Players' Union lined up with irate supporters of both clubs. Here was a story good for the media; not many could resist the banner headline FULHAM SOLD DOWN THE RIVER. Apart from demonstrations a protest meeting was called at Hammersmith Town Hall. The deputy leader of the Labour Party thought it a good platform on which to join the local MP Nick Rainsford and various football notables. Nevertheless, apart from the local council's promised refusal to grant planning permission for the development, Marler still thought they'd get away with the basics of their plan and prepared to ride out the storm.

But then, to defend himself against accusation of a sudden sell-out. Jim Gregory the present chairman of Queens Park Rangers stated he had been negotiating with Marler since September 1986. This threw an entirely new light on the matter. Not only was Bulstrode clearly shown to have lied both to the council and to supporters, but his co-director at Fulham, Robert Noonan, as well as the chairman of Walsall FC Terry Ramsden, had in the past few weeks considerably increased their share-holding in Marler. Marler's share price rose dramatically on the announcement. But insider dealing is the current dirty word, signifying the unacceptable face of capitalism. Previously unmoved Tory MPs suddenly expressed concern for their image and the silence of Sports Minister, Dick Tracey even worried his colleague David Mellor. Suddenly Bulstrode began negotiating, his only expressed condition is that the buying consortium must be genuinely interested in football and guarantee the continuation of the club. But quite clearly they're all playing a quite different game to football.
Eva Goodman

The politics of Aids (1987)

From the March 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

Estimates now suggest that 100,000 people in Britain will be infected with the AIDS virus by the middle of 1987, with 20,000 developing the full-blown symptoms by 1991. According to the British Medical Journal, [1] in less than six years’ time, “if the numbers affected continue to rise . . .  the deaths each month in Britain alone will be equivalent to the crash of a fully loaded jumbo jet”. And as with airline disasters, you won’t stand any more chance of survival by being female rather than male, straight rather than gay.

The virus has been around since the 1970s. In 1982 the first urgent calls were made for an extensive health and education campaign about AIDS. Why is it only now that we are getting any substantial information after years of media hysteria and disinformation? The difference is that the people dying aren’t thousands of miles away in Africa or America. And the threat is no longer restricted to homosexual men. More significantly, the spread of the disease is hitting capitalism and in particular the “Welfare State”, where it hurts most. A few years ago, the cost of treating and caring for the few AIDS victims was insignificant, at between ten and forty thousand pounds each. There was no point in expensive advertising just to prevent a few deaths. Now, however, the economics of the situation have changed: with the total cost of treatment soaring to an estimated £146m by 1990, a mere few millions spent on prevention is a good investment. Those who died, and those who will as a result of this delay, will be comforted in the knowledge that their deaths were “cost- effective”.

Fuel for prejudice
Regardless of the belated government advice, much of the newspaper coverage and comment has been taken up with prejudice and myth. Right-wing columnists and politicians have been queueing up to outdo each other at their favourite sport of baiting left-wingers and shocking liberals: the Tory councillor who talked of putting 90 per cent of homosexuals into gas chambers;[2] the suggestion of a reader in the Daily Mail that all gays should be buried in a pit and covered in quicklime; the comments from the Manchester Chief Constable about, “people swirling about in a human cesspit of their own making” (However, Pope James Anderton the First had the ideal excuse - “I Was moved by the spirit of God to say exactly what I did”).[2]

As unpleasant as these sentiments are, it is too easy to consider them and plenty of others, to be just the ignorant rantings of a few idiots. Certainly that is true - they are the ignorant rantings of a few idiots - but such ideas can only survive in an atmosphere of hostility, prejudice and ignorance. This is a society which arbitrarily divides people up on the basis of their colour, where they were born, their sex or their sexual orientation and so on; where AIDS is seen not as a health problem but as a gay problem or "gay plague”. This is a society which puts profit before people, creating artificial conflicts over resources like hospital beds. For example, the Tory Scottish Office Minister, John MacKay wanted AIDS victims to pay for their own treatment because the NHS didn’t have any extra resources (money) available and anyway there were “better cases”, such as heart transplants and renal failure which were more deserving for not having brought it upon themselves.[3]

Racism, also a product of a world split by states and nations and borders and barriers, has found another foothold in the proposals (being considered by Lord Whitelaw’s committee on AIDS), to screen all visitors to Britain from Africa because of the high incidence of carriers in that part of the world. There is no suggestion of screening all visitors from America although the proportion of carriers in some areas is comparable and the number of visitors greater.

In the 1930s and 1940s in Nazi Germany, VD and other diseases were blamed on the Jews. Little has changed since then. Again disease is a pawn to be used in the power struggles of our exploiters. Even the propaganda war between the two superpowers has had some right-wingers in America accusing the KGB of producing the virus. And vice-versa — the CIA has been blamed by the Kremlin.

The AIDS virus is difficult to track down because it is like a lentivirus (very slow acting), it attacks the immune system, it coats itself in polysaccharide (a barrier to detection) and it has the highest known degree of what is called “antigenic drift” (it can change its external form very quickly). However research suggests that although the virus fits all the requirements for a biological weapon, it is very unlikely that it is human-made. Not for want of trying it seems: CIA documents from the 1950s discuss the production of viruses for purposes of warfare. The Human Immuno-Deficient virus fits their description arid fits the bill for efficiency and anonymity. Isn’t science in a capitalist society wonderful?

So the hostility and prejudice which has characterised the AIDS problem so far haven’t arisen from nowhere but from the insecurity, ignorance and conflict that is inseparable from capitalism. In such a social order attempts to reform or legislate away the problems thrown up by the virus are impossible. Capitalism isn’t just about economics, its values creep into every corner of your life, distorting every relationship. The ethos of capitalism is to consume, to accumulate, to have to the exclusion of others. The richer you are, the better you are. It can be the number of notes in your wallet, or the number of notches on your leather belt. It can be the new ghettoblaster you’re showing off on one arm, or the new partner you’re showing off on the other, it’s all property. Now, however, the message of the government is “stick to one partner”.

How much real value the government places on the AIDS public information campaign is clear when one considers that about five times as much was spent on telling Sid about British Gas shares. How much concern the company bosses have when their profits are at stake is also obvious with reports that advertising agencies are refusing to place ads on the same commercial breaks on TV as the public health information, in case the impact of the AIDS ads would detract from their washing powder or cornflakes.[5] And some tabloids which make a living out of stories of AIDS tragedies, and pictures of women’s bodies, are refusing to carry adverts for condoms.[6]

Futility of reformism
One example of the persecution of gays is at their place of work, where some have already got the sack even if they do not have the virus. The government recently boldly said that industrial tribunals and the sex discrimination laws would be used to ensure that employers had no right to do such a thing. The history of the attempts of both the industrial tribunals and the sex discrimination laws in dealing with “unfair” dismissals or recruitment policies does not give any grounds for confidence. Indeed, legislation barring just such forms of discrimination against AIDS victims in Los Angeles has been admitted by the councillor who sponsored it to be,
largely a token gesture. It may offer some comfort to the million or so gays in California. But most legal wrongs go unredressed. It takes time and money to fight your case through the courts. Most sufferers have already spent their savings in hospitals. And they don’t have much time.[7]
So the reform cannot achieve what on paper it demands, because the economics are more powerful than any fine-sounding resolutions.

This is one reason why reformism basically does not work - because it deals only with effects. It tries to patch up a rotten inhuman system and it fails for a number of reasons. Firstly, as in the example above, you cannot legislate away a problem; the reality of living under capitalism means that you do need time and money to fight for what are laughingly called rights. Effectively it is still one law for the rich. Secondly, reformism is a never-ending treadmill of chasing and defending reforms. For example, the last two decades have seen homosexuals and civil libertarians fighting for gay rights and freedom from persecution. They have had some successes and some failures. Yet the (relative) successes can only be fragile. Along comes the AIDS virus and bang go many of the gains. Similarly, popular attitudes to homosexuals have improved but while this society is creating conflicts and seeking scapegoats, public tolerance of homosexuals (as one example), can never be permanent.

Thirdly, reforms often produce as many problems as they solve, shifting the problem from one area to another, by tinkering with a system that is out of our control. There is an interesting example of this as regards the problem of AIDS in Britain. The worst city in Britain for the proportion of those infected, is Edinburgh. The specific reason for this is the sharing of needles among the city's intravenous drug users, caused by the futile efforts of the police in that area to stamp out drug addiction by discouraging the sale of syringes and needles and removing those items from individuals found in possession of them.[8] This was done, incidentally, in the full knowledge of the likely spread of the potentially fatal hepatitis B' virus. What did surprise the authorities was the spread of AIDS (50 per cent of intravenous drug users in Edinburgh are infected compared with less than five per cent in Glasgow). Last year the headlines were 'Maggie's War On Drugs"; this year it's "Maggie's War On AIDS". So where there was one problem now there are two. But never mind. The Socialist Party is often told, you have to deal with one problem at a time.

Capitalism can't cope
Already about 50 per cent of haemophiliacs (that's about 1,000) have been infected with the virus, with eighteen of them now dead. All were infected with contaminated supplies of the blood clotting agent Factor 8. The Department of Health were warned in 1983 of the dangers to health, but heat treatment did not start until 1984 and even then was not widely available until April 1985.[9] Only last year did Armour Pharmaceuticals withdraw their supplies of Factor 8. The government also showed whose interests they were fighting for when they delayed a decision on which company should get the order for a blood test kit. so that Wellcome, the £1.5bn British pharmaceuticals combine, could improve their product enough to get the contract. Never mind the delay, all that matters is that it’s got Made in Britain on it and the profits go to ’’our" capitalists.

Capitalism is all about owning to the exclusion of others, even knowledge and research are commodities to be bought and sold at the right price, or to be hidden and restricted as trade secrets. No free flow of research information between scientists around the world can be allowed while companies. agencies, research institutions and the governments that represent them are competing with one another: "It very nearly went to Japan”, said the Chief Executive of Porton International, a firm who are developing what may be the most potent anti-viral agent in the world, and will make many millions if it lives up to its promise.[10] Indeed the short history of AIDS has produced a long history of competition over products between companies and countries, resulting in much duplication of work between scientists in France. Britain and the US.

That's in the past. The AIDS virus has a long future ahead of it. and the vision is a bleak one. Far from responding to new demands, the market system can act only in the pursuit of profit. As the need for more information and facilities grows, capitalism falls further and further short:
the Public Health Laboratory Service, the national agency monitoring the epidemic faces a £4m cut this year. Instead of expanding to cope with the increasing requirements, they have unfilled staff vacancies and may have to close six laboratories this year;
the Medical Research Council faces a £13m deficit by 1990 and must close five of its special research units-.
to cope with their share of the expected 20.000 patients who will have the full-blown disease by 1991, the North West Thames regional health authority have all of 25 beds and no more planned.[11]

Look on the bright side though, the discovery by Wellcome PLC of a potential partial treatment for AIDS, called AZT. boosted their share price by 15p to 221p.

It all adds up then, to a terrible disease and a terrible society. If you take into account all the cutbacks being made when they are least needed, the profits being made from cornering a market, the many unnecessary deaths, and all the right-wing moralists and would-be Ayatollahs crowing over every slow death, it starts to become clear. Every unfortunate AIDS sufferer is a victim - but not just of a virus.
Brian Gardner

1. Quoted in Guardian, 11.8.86.
2. Guardian, 18.12.86.
3. Scotsman, 3.9.86.
4. Guardian, 16.5.86.
5. Observer, 21.12.86.
6. Guardian, 11.11.86.
7. Observer, 23.2.86.
8. Guardian, 25.9.86.
9. Guardian, 8.11.86.
10. New Scientist, 25.9.86.
11. Guardian, 11.12.86

The Sam Packer Story (1966)

A Short Story from the December 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sam Packer was in his teens when he got a job at the factory. He was a bright lad, energetic and jolly, and his workmates took an instant liking to him. Sam soon became one of the firm’s most popular employees; the foreman smiled at him; the manager acknowledged him with a nod.

After doing odd jobs for a few years Sam qualified for a place at a bench and promptly celebrated his promotion by getting married. Marriage set his life on a different tack. Pocket money, sufficient when he was single, dwindled when he had a wife to maintain. It almost disappeared when the children came.

The few pay increases the firm conceded had to go straight into Mrs. Sam Packer's purse because of rising living costs. Sam did his best to economise, rolling his cigarettes, mending the family’s shoes, wearing second-hand clothing and riding to work on a bicycle with sandwiches for lunch. In desperation, after a bout of nagging from his wife, Sam went to the factory office and asked for a raise. Very abruptly he was told that such matters were dealt with through trade union channels and that the firm, facing financial problems, could not afford to pay increases.

The “financial problem" story was true, the firm was soon absorbed into a large combine. Sam found the new management remote and impersonal. A notice was posted informing the staff that, following reorganisation, there would be certain redundancies. A demand for a pay increase was rejected.

Sam was furious. He talked of throwing up the job but his wife nagged the fear of unemployment into him. One evening, with several mates, Sam went to his trade union branch meeting where he got on his feet and bellowed out all the rude things about his employers that his mates were thinking. He was clapped and cheered and went home happily with the applause ringing in his ears.

Sam became a regular attender at the union meetings, speaking as often as the chairman would let him on every subject that came up for discussion. Always critical, always expressing the general discontent, always demanding fair play for the workers, he established a local reputation. “Sam’s the boy,” said his mates, “He’ll tell ’em.”

When a shop steward suddenly died Sam’s nomination for the job was unopposed. He was required to attend trade union conferences and, after an attack of butterflies-in-the-stomach, he made his first conference speech, following it with regular contributions to the debates. Consistently he proposed motions of censure against union officials, criticisms of employers and threats of strike action.

At the close of each conference Sam would go to a nearby pub and argue over a pint with other ale-supping delegates. He became as popular with them as he was with his local workmates.

One day, at the factory union meeting, the members took one of Sam’s fiery speeches seriously and decided to strike. Sam was thrust into the position of a strike leader. It was the first time he had been called upon to do more than talk and he was bewildered.

The employers, with ears to the ground and spies at the union meeting, learned of the strike decision. Business was brisk and they were not prepared to face a stoppage at that moment, so they sent a polite invitation to Sam to meet them at their headquarters. He entered the boardroom with knees knocking, but the assembled management greeted him so warmly, addressing him as Mr. Packer, passing round their cigarettes and making flattering remarks about his ability as a trade union leader, that he soon got over his nervousness.

The chairman candidly admitted that the company was making a moderate profit and was prepared to show appreciation to its staff by introducing a bonus system. He pointed out how, with increased production, the bonus could grow and make a substantial increase in the staff’s earnings. Sam was relieved. They sold him the idea with ease. He shook hands all round and left the building with a jaunty step.

Back at the factory Sam called a special union meeting and recommended to the members the acceptance of the firm's offer. Against feeble opposition the meeting agreed to accept, to withdraw the strike decision and to give Sam a vote of thanks.

With his reputation enhanced Sam was elected on to one committee after another. He served on district committees, area committees, finance committees and, eventually, national committees. He was sent to Trades-Union Congress and to Labour Party conferences. His name became known in trade union circles from Penzance to Penrith, from Lowestoft to Llandudno. He was photographed by the press and interviewed for television. He dressed smartly and gave up rolling his cigarettes.

He worked at the factory for only one or two days a week. His employers gave him leave to attend his union meetings and the union paid him an allowance for the days devoted to union business. He was continuously invited to attend social functions sometimes in the company of employers he had recently faced across a negotiating table. He lost his taste for beer and cigarettes and acquired one for spirits and cigars.

Being on christian-name intimacy with the top brass of his union, Sam was groomed for a full-time job as a union officer and when he got it he moved from his old address to a modem flat near to his union office. His workmates at the factory, who had been seeing him less and less, now saw him not at all. His salary enabled his family to treble its living standard. He had a sleek car and his cigars and his waistline gradually increased their girth.

There was a fly in Sam's ointment. He missed the exhilaration of the applause that used to accompany his old fiery oratory. If he gave vent to a speech in front of employers they smiled indulgently and his fellow union officers made cracks about soap-box oratory. He was expected to devise compromises and work out alternative propositions. He was not good at it. It fogged him, his mind rambled and he lapsed into silence.

As a trade union officer Sam was drawn into Labour Party activity. When a by-election occurred in his constituency he threw himself into the fray with zest. He was in top form addressing audiences in his old spirited manner, lambasting his party's opponents and drawing laughs and claps with his wisecracks, his slashing criticisms and his slangy oratory. Only question time made him uncomfortable. He did not know the answers so he skirted round questions with wit and sarcasm. After the by-election he decided to better equip himself with a study course on political economy through his union education scheme.

Promotion in his union further increased Sam's salary, the size of his car and the length of his holidays. He attended international conferences, flying to foreign cities and staying in the best hotels. To improve his image he took his wife around with him. The days of living in a two-roomed flat, riding a bicycle to work, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and mending his own shoes were so far behind him that he could afford to boast about them in contrast to his new status.

Mr. Sam Packer no longer spoke of workers’ rights, fair wages, the unscrupulous boss class and working class solidarity. Instead he spoke of national economy, trade balances, export problems, productivity and international finance. Although he allowed himself to be called a Socialist he carefully avoided references to class interests.

One day the 'phone rang in Mr. Packer's office. It was his National Secretary calling to tell him that the workers at the factory where he used to work were on strike for more pay. The employers had 'phoned union headquarters to complain that, as they abided by national agreements, they expected the workers to do likewise and what was the union going to do about the strike? The National Secretary had assured them that the Union did not condone unofficial disputes and that a union officer would be sent to the effected area to get the men back to work. That was a job for Samuel Packer.

Press reporters were waiting outside the office to bombard Mr. Packer with questions. He gave them a statement. He said that the strike was unjustified, that it was probably the work of an handful of agitators, that the workers would see reason when matters were explained to them and that the public could be assured that there would soon be a resumption of work.

A meeting of the strikers was specially convened to hear union officer Packer tell them that their action was ill-timed and ill-advised and that, if they forced wages up at this time, the price of their products would increase and foreign competitors would undersell them. If goods could not be sold the workers who produced them, explained Mr. Packer, would soon be out of a job. The sensible thing was to increase production without increasing costs, to be competitive in the markets of the world, capture orders and have plenty of work. When that was done there would be good prospects of a big pay increase.

One questioner asked, if jobs depended on selling goods and selling goods depended on low wages, then wouldn't jobs and low wages always go together? Another worker said that when he worked in an overseas factory he had been told the same story; the workers were being played off against one another.

Mr. Packer replied that he could smell a red agitator a mile away. He, with other union officers, was in the best position to keep a finger on the pulse of the national situation and to advise workers when to seek wage increases and when to bide their time. If they were as reasonable as he thought they were they would go back to work and leave their claims in the hands of the union where, he swore on oath, their interests would be well looked after.

The chairman counted the votes amid uproar and announced a narrow majority for a return to work.

Months later, at a Labour Party meeting, Mr. Packer accepted a challenge from a member of the audience to debate the question “Is the Labour Party a Socialist Party?" This, he thought, would be fun. He was astounded when Transport House informed him that, if he engaged in this debate, he must do so as an individual, not as a Labour Party representative.

For Mr. Packer the debate was a fiasco. He defined Socialism as “The greatest good to the greatest number," “Christianity in practice" and “The brotherhood of man." He amplified these definitions by reference to the Labour Party’s schemes for building houses, hospitals and schools, for increasing production and old age pensions and decreasing armaments.

His opponent defined Socialism as a system of society wherein the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth were commonly owned and democratically controlled by, and in the interest of the whole community. This, said Mr. Packer, was idealism, a pipe dream and totally impracticable. Human nature would not allow it. He believed in a practical kind of Socialism. 

Mr. Packer's opponent explained how this so-called practical Socialism was really a continuation of the existing social set-up with its wars, poverty, unemployment and insecurity. He quoted from Mr. Packer’s own trade union speeches to show that the abolition on the wages system was the only solution to the problems of wage earners.

In his winding-up address Mr. Packer became confused, then annoyed and finally abusive. He left the hall with a red face amid grins and laughs.

When the office of national union secretary became vacant Mr. Packer was an unsuccessful candidate for the job, but compensation came when, in the New Year’s Honours List, he was cited for the O.B.E.

Subsequently he accepted nomination as a parliamentary candidate in a safe Labour constituency. As a Member of Parliament his infrequent speeches were as empty as the benches around him. The Honourable Member Mr. Packer, O.B.E., knew the right people and was appointed to the board of a nationalised industry at a salary of £12,000 a year. He hob-nobbed with his fellow board members, all of whom were either ex-bankers or ex-company directors. He objected to any reference to his humble origin.

He gradually faded from the public limelight till he was stricken by thrombosis in his London home and died, despite the attention of two hastily summoned Harley Street physicians.

A few grilled old workers at the factory read of his death in their morning papers. The announcement was wedged between news of a wage freeze, closing factories, short-time working, redeployment and unemployment. One old timer, as he spread his breakfast margarine, said, “Packer, he used to work at our place. Led us up the garden, proper, he did. Still, it was our own fault. We ought to do our own thinking instead of leaving it to blokes like him.”
W. Waters

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Forty Wasted Years: Three Labour Leaders Look Back (1934)

From the May 1934 issue of the Socialist Standard

Three men well on in years, each of whom has spent, a lifetime in the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party, have been looking back at the work those parties have done, and asking themselves whether it was good. Two of them, Lord Snowden and Mr. George Lansbury, have risen from obscurity to become Ministers of the Crown. The third, Mr. J. T. Abbott, has been active and influential in the I.L.P., of which he was for many years organiser. They are all three the possessors of qualities which would have made them an asset to any movement which had their undivided allegiance. They have all had their hour of triumph. Now they are all three either openly alienated from the movements they helped to form or putting forward a hostile policy. Lord Snowden, after serving in two Labour Governments, and being largely instrumental in swinging over working-class votes to the National Government which rose on the wreckage of the last Labour Government, soon left the National Government also and is now isolated from every organised movement, a lonely figure in the House of Lords. He tells us (John Bull, April 21st) that the “ best Government I have known" was a Liberal Government. "The years 1906 to 1914 were productive of a larger output of beneficial legislation than in any similar period in our history. ... I have no hesitation in saying that the Liberal Government of 1906 contained a larger number of able men than any Government I have known."

Mr. J. T. Abbott, after forty years in the I.L.P., finds himself compelled to resign, and is already outside the Labour Party. Late in life he must face the heartbreaking task of beginning all over again. In 1893 it was the Independent Labour Party; in 1934, he says, it is necessary to form an Independent Socialist Party! He partly realises now how wrong and useless the old effort was, and must be full of regret that he did not learn the lesson many years earlier.

Lastly there is Mr. George Lansbury, who for many weeks past has been laid up with a broken thigh. Pondering over the activities of his party he confesses (Clarion, April 14th and 21st) that he has had to throw over many views he has held for years. He sees now the meaningless nature of reforms—“ like baling out the ocean with a tea-spoon." He admits that some of his present views may conflict with Labour Party policy, but nevertheless declares against compromise, against fighting elections on any issue but Socialism, and against any more alliances with the Liberals. He states as clearly as he knows how that the only solution is common ownership and democratic control of the means of life. He admits that in saying these things he may be contradicting what he has been saying before. 

The significance of this declaration is not that it commits the Labour Party, of which Mr. Lansbury is leader—in that quarter it will be passed over and forgotten in a few weeks—nor that it means a deep and permanent change of attitude on his part. When he finds that the whole life of the Labour Party depends on a continuance of reform and compromise, as it does, he will either have to toe the line or he will be gradually superseded. It is almost a certainty that when he recovers his health he will again be absorbed in the day-to-day work of vote-catching and reformism and his sick-bed thoughts will be forgotten by him as by others. Already there are renewed talks of a Liberal-Labour alliance, which the Clarion receives sympathetically.

Nevertheless, the confession of past errors, and Lansbury's attempt to work out a new and different “profession of faith" has a significance. It shows, as the S.P.G.B. has claimed from its formation, that serious study of the working-class position and of the results of reformist activities cannot logically lead to any other conclusions than those we have been proclaiming high and low for thirty years. In spite of all the weight of influence against his appreciating these truths, Mr. Lansbury has been unable honestly to escape agreeing with at least some of them.

It is not a pleasant thought, either for the three chief actors or for their admirers, that their words and actions should testify to the complete and irretrievable failure of the Labour Party and I.L.P. For the working class, however, there is no need for despair. The forces and experiences which in the eyes of those who think have robbed the Labour Party of every vestige of a plausible case for reformism, have given the Socialist movement confidence and courage based on the confirmation that our case is sound and unanswerable.

As belief in Labourism declines, Socialism advances.
Edgar Hardcastle

Take a Tip From Me? (2016)

From the April 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard

You tip the waiter but not the cleaner, the taxi driver but not the bus driver. Should you tip in a restaurant but not in a pub? Social customs, like tipping, differ from country to country, from situation to situation and change over time. Here, Ian Parkin explores the origins of tipping, its geographical and social nuances, and suggests its subservient nature is an anachronism.

It has filled the pages of countless tourist guides and been a topic of social etiquette for centuries. To tip or not to tip: how much to tip and who to tip? Recent news reports of high street companies regarding tips as profit have made the issue even more divisive.

Whenever I go to a restaurant, whether it is with friends, family or loved ones, we always end up disagreeing about tipping.

I recently booked a table at a restaurant and arriving early was shown to the bar. The barman serving offered, or should I say, persuaded me to add the cost of the drinks to my table bill. I wondered why since I was offering cash. The penny dropped when the bill arrived: it was a great deal more once taxes and gratuities were added.

There is the legal, government-imposed 20 percent Value Added Tax and a 12 percent service charge, which, I appreciate, is not obligatory. You can ask for it to be removed but must suffer the social embarrassment that this request involves. But the expenditure does not stop there.

The attending staff ask: ‘Was everything okay for you with your meal and the service?’ Which very much feels like a strong hint for: ‘Don’t forget my tip?’ When this is all added up, 12 percent service, a customary tip of at least 10 percent along with the 20 percent VAT: my bill has rocketed by a whopping 42 percent – almost half the total price.

On another occasion, when making a reservation at a different restaurant, I was informed that the restaurant levies a 10 percent music charge for the entertainment provided. In small print at the bottom of their menu it also states that a 12 percent service charge would be added to the final bill, and, true to form, the staff were still angling for their tip.

Furthermore, I am given to understand that 10 percent is increasingly being considered as a derisory gratuity. In the USA between 15 percent and 20 percent is now the threshold of social acceptability, if you don’t want to be branded a ‘Canadian’ (the insulting term for a mean tipper).

So, to tip or not to tip then, that is the question. It confronts us in so many social situations these days. But, before I attempt to offer an opinion on the subject, there are a number of factors to consider; not least the historical origins, the cultural, social and economic traditions and, not to forget, the political ramifications.

It is generally believed that the custom of tipping began in the taverns of England in the 17th century. Patrons would offer their waiter or server some money, ‘To Insure Prompt Service’, making the acronym a ‘tip’. The practice seems to have quickly caught on and soon spread among the taverns, pubs and restaurants of the time.

Similarly, guests who stayed in private homes around this time would pay monies to the servants as a gift; these gifts were known as ‘vails’. However the practice of vails predates tipping and as far back as the 16th century and earlier, during feudal times, lords and ladies who travelled the dirt roads of England would give a coin to longbowmen to ensure their safety of passage.

One popular misconception is that tipping started in the USA since they are the society that promotes and champions tipping more than any other. In fact, until the early 20th century, Americans viewed tipping as inconsistent with the values of an egalitarian, democratic society and at variance with the principles of the Founding Fathers.

The US, unlike Europe, had no aristocratic tradition but was founded on the constitutional principle that ‘all men are born equal’. The aftermath of the Civil War saw wealthy Americans beginning to travel to Europe in significant numbers, and returning home to the States they brought the tip tradition with them to demonstrate their status and sophistication as well-heeled and well-travelled.

And, as tipping spread, like ‘evil insects and weeds’ according to a New York Times report in 1897, many thought it was incompatible with America’s democratic ideals. ‘Tipping, and the aristocratic idea it exemplifies,’ commentators said, ‘is what we left Europe to escape.’

Opposition to tipping was not limited to the media and, in 1904; the Anti-Tipping Society of America sprang up in Georgia. 100,000 members signed pledges not to tip anyone for a year. Leagues of travelling salesmen opposed the tip, as did most labour unions. In 1909 Washington became the first of six states to pass an anti-tipping law.

William Scott wrote a stinging diatribe against the practice in his book, The Itching Palm. In it he condemns the policy of paying for a service twice – ’once to the employer and again to the employee’. He criticises tipping as ‘democracy’s mortal foe’ that creates ‘a servile attitude for a fee’.

‘In the American democracy,’ Scott cautioned, ‘to be servile is incompatible with citizenship’.  ‘Every tip given in the United States is a blow at our experiment in democracy. The custom announces to the world… that we do not believe practically that ‘all men are created equal’. Unless a waiter can be a gentleman, democracy is a failure. If any form of service is menial, democracy is a failure. Those Americans who dislike self-respect in servants are undesirable citizens; they belong in an aristocracy.’

Scott continues: ‘If tipping is un-American, some day, somehow, it will be uprooted like African slavery.’

One periodical of the same era deplored tipping for creating a class of workers who relied on 'fawning for favours'.

But hostility to tipping was not limited to those previously mentioned. Some proprietors also regarded tips as equivalent to bribing an employee to do something that was otherwise forbidden, such as tipping a waiter to get a larger portion of food.

And more broadly in society, tips, gratuities and gifts were viewed pejoratively; to curry favour, secure a contract, to win a bid or gain an unfair advantage.

Despite this opposition, while diners and servers alike haven’t stopped grumbling since about the system of tipping, there was no serious legislative effort to end the practice.

Prohibition, when introduced in 1919, made the sale of alcohol illegal and had a huge impact on hotels and restaurants which lost a major revenue stream. The resulting financial pressure converted proprietors to welcome tipping as a way of supplementing employee wages. Contrary to popular belief, tipping did not necessarily arise because of servers' low wages – the waiter profession was relatively well paid in the era when tipping became institutionalised. And tipping persisted.

The new laws rarely were enforced, and when they were, they did not hold up in court. By 1926, every anti-tipping law had been repealed.

Ultimately, even those who, in principle opposed the practice found themselves unable to stiff their servers. Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labour and a leading figure of the anti-tipping movement, admitted that he ‘followed the usual custom of giving tips’.

In Britain after the Second World War, the period became known as the post-war consensus (1945 -1979) during which time both the Conservative and the Labour shared common ground on policy.

Nationalised Industries such as the then General Post Office (GPO) strongly discouraged their staff from accepting gratuities and local authority workers such as refuse collection had ‘no gratuities’ marked on their vehicles.

The process of tipping itself is whimsical and ambiguous. The people that tip tend to have golden rules about who to tip that, in fact, do not stand up to scrutiny when analysed. People tip when travelling. They tend to tip taxicab drivers, who are in fact self-employed, but they do not tip a bus driver, a train driver or an airline pilot.

People who tip when dining, tip a waiter or waitress in a restaurant but not in a café, coffee shop or an airline steward. Furthermore, they do not leave tips for the kitchen or cleaning staff that contributed towards them enjoying their evening.

Tipping is therefore both capricious and illogical and engenders a ‘doff the cap’ mentality. However, on a positive note, it does afford the individual the opportunity to express their appreciation for a job well done. But it should of course be the norm that a job is well done and not the exception.

Tipping is an anomaly and not all tips get to be kept by the intended recipient. When a tip is included in a credit card payment, there is no guarantee that the person it was intended for will receive it and furthermore they have no right to it.

Many establishments operate a ‘Tronc system’ under which all tips are collected by the Troncmaster, the monies are then pooled and shared between all employees, both front of house and back room staff.

Different countries across the world have very different attitudes to tipping. Throughout Europe tipping is not expected, although the bill is often rounded up or some small change left, as in Spain. In France tipping is not expected but a service charge is added to the bill. In China, Hong Kong and Singapore it is not expected except in certain situations.

I am reliably informed that New Zealand once displayed a sign in their airport arrivals lounge to the effect that: ‘Our people are paid good wages and there is no need for tipping’. And in Japan I understand that tipping is rarely seen and any direct offer of money is viewed as rude.

In Britain there is a legal minimum wage in place to ensure that people do not rely on the ‘grace and favour’ of a no-wage or low-wage economy, where tips are often used to make up wages.

Tom Bishop, head of travel insurance at Direct Line said: ‘Our laws prevent restaurants in Britain from using tips to up salaries, meaning that there is not an established tipping culture in the UK.’

It can be argued that we should not support tipping but strive for increases to minimum wages and to lessen the disparity of wealth. Furthermore, it is difficult to support Fay Maschler’s idea of a legally-enforced service charge (Evening Standard  28 August 2015). Restaurants should pay their staff realistic, living wages. Whether a tip or service charge is expected or legally imposed to supplement low wages; it is in fact exploitation of both staff and customers.

Tipping is an anachronism that finds its roots in class-based society and encourages staff to be subservient. All the time that we find ourselves living in the money-orientated, capitalist system we should reject the notion of tipping and gratuities in favour of increased wages and a more egalitarian society.

The realisation of a socialist system would of course render the whole process of capitalism as a social economic system redundant – and tipping with it.
Ian Parkin