Friday, August 19, 2016

Political Notebook: Nationalised Democracy (1980)

The Political Notebook Column from the January 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard


British Leyland, as a state-run industry, is said to be owned by the public. Members of ‘the public’ who neither own state bonds nor gain from BL’s profits would be right to conclude that nationalisation is just another way of running capitalism in the interest of the capitalists. According to the Labour Party, however, nationalisation benefits us all, partly because, unlike in private industry where a few bosses make decisions, in state-run enterprises ‘the public’ appoints administrators like Sir Michael Edwardes, chairman of British Leyland. This public appointment, so the myth goes, makes nationalised industries more democratic.

Two men who probably voted Labour at the last election are Terry Duffy, president of the AEWU and Derek Robinson, a sacked shop steward who was chairman of the Leyland Combine Trade Union Committee which issued a pamphlet entitled The Edwardes Plan and Your Job, seeking to persuade the BL workers not to accept the management’s plans for the contraction of the company.

If ‘industrial democracy’ means anything it must include the freedom of people like Derek Robinson to express their views as forcefully as they wish. But Robinson was sacked on the grounds that the distribution of his pamphlet was disruptive. Terry Duffy, Robinson’s union leader, refused to call an official strike to protect Robinson against this clear victimisation by a management which is supposedly representative of ‘the public’ and supposedly a part of Labour’s more democratic industrial framework. Terry Duffy, his fellow leaders of the engineering union and Derek Robinson — the left wing militant — should begin to question the validity of ideals which equate state ownership with socialism.

Robinson’s Reforms

Alas, when we come to read Robinson’s pamphlet we find a collection of sterile proposals for the continuation of capitalist production, but in a benevolent guise. He argues for increased investment in BL, an extensive sales campaign to boost BL’s profits, the introduction of new technical developments, better wages and conditions and — a typical dose of left-wing nationalism — the imposition of import controls:
The UK’s imports are running way above those of any other country with a motor industry of its own. And they are increasing.
In the section in which he advises the workers at BL about what must be done, Robinson states that:
Around the demands for ‘the right to work’ and ‘BL must be saved’ we must develop a campaign that involves every BL worker, every component worker and the whole labour movement . . .  In the interests of our members, workers generally, and in the national interest, Britain’s manufacturing base must be defended. (His emphasis)
It would do Derek Robinson no harm to contemplate a few economic realities during his period of enforced retirement. There is no right to work, just the employer’s right to exploit your labour, should it be profitable to do so. This is so whether capital is privately or state owned. ‘BL must be saved’ is the slogan of the slave who is dedicated to the retention of his master’s property, as is the patriotic claptrap about the ‘national interest’. Instead of devising elaborate schemes to put the capitalists’ house in order, Robinson would do better to campaign for a society in which cars are produced, if they are produced at all, because they are needed and not because they are profitable.


Article 13 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China states that:
Speaking out freely, airing views fully, holding great debates and writing big-character posters are new forms of carrying on socialist revolution created by the masses of the people. The state shall ensure to the masses the right to use these forms to create a political situation in which there are both centralism and democracy, both discipline and freedom, both unity of will and personal ease of mind and liveliness . . .
According to the Peking Daily, on 2 December guards were stationed on the so-called Democracy Wall in Peking because the wall has been a forum for the sale of magazines criticising the government and the Communist Party. Such criticism, it seems, takes the words of Article 13 too literally and risks imprisonment for doing what is constitutionally legal. Are there any Maoists who would care to write in and tell us that the Chinese dissidents are simply CIA hirelings plotting to subvert the Thatcher-loving communist dictatorship.


A very interesting report has been issued by Charles Levinson, general secretary of the International Federation of the Chemical, Energy and General Workers’ Union. In it he points out that between 1971 and 1975 400,000 jobs were lost in Europe’s synthetic fibres industry because of cheap imports from Eastern Europe, where workers are not able to organise in free trade unions to improve the price of their labour-power. The benefit of importing from the Soviet Union and its satellites, says Levinson, is that there are
. . . adequate supplies of cheap, non-militant labour . . . workers belong to the state-run organisations whose officials are appointed and whose policies are set by the same control committee which are concluding agreements with the capitalist firms.


A minor event at the TUC Headquarters has received hardly any media attention. For some years the British Foreign Office has had close relations with the International Department of the TUC. As from this month, the FO will have a permanent member of staff at the TUC to ensure close collaboration between the unions and the government. So those of you who mistakenly believed that the unions were being manipulated by Russian spies can rest safely in your beds in the knowledge that it is being manipulated by patriotic chappies from Lord Carrington’s Foreign Office.
Steve Coleman

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