Friday, August 19, 2016

Running Commentary: Waste Not (1980)

The Running Commentary Column from the January 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard


There was much that was puzzling in the Tory election promises, not least their declared determination to hunt down and exterminate all waste and inefficiency.

To begin with, there was the puzzling implication that under the Labour government workers had had a marvellous time, being paid to be inefficient in jobs which were wasteful. Those thousands who were thrown out of work as a result of Labour government cuts and their other policies may be expected to give vent to an especially hollow laugh.

And then there was the appointment of a Waste and Inefficiency Watchdog. In some ways this was a shrewd move; Margaret Thatcher chose Derek Rayner, joint managing director of Marks and Spencer — a firm with a reputation among workers who buy their sweaters there for being highly efficient and non-wasteful.

Now Rayner is busily at work, and one of the areas he is hunting over is, of course, the Civil Service. Already some 20,000 jobs have been lost in a recruitment ban; now ministries like Industry, Trade, Employment — even the Foreign Office — are to be further cut. There may even be redundancies — something civil servants are accustomed to organising for other workers, on the comfortable assumption that it would not happen to them.

But the puzzle is — why does Rayner stop there? Why is his view so blinkered? Why does he try to get rid of waste and inefficiency by making capable workers idle in dole queues? Why, in other words, does he not realise that the only way to rid us of waste and inefficiency is to abolish the social system which operates on the profit motive?

In the name of commodity production and profit capitalism wastes an enormous amount of the world’s resources and its people’s abilities. Why doesn’t Rayner extend his hunt to include that? There are, as usual, no prizes for the correct answer to this puzzle. 


Does Rentamob live? In Tehran a forest of clenched fists pump up and down in the air, and from tens of thousands of throats comes the rhythmic, beating screech — “Aya-toll-ah Kho-mei-ni; Aya- toll-ah Kho-mei-ni”.

In America too there are clenched fists on high, and faces similarly contorted with passion. Only the screams are different, for those people are protesting against the Ayatollah’s followers capturing the American Embassy in Tehran, and they lust for the blood of the Iranian ruler.

Demonstrators have developed a style which is international. Whatever the matter of their protest, across the world the clenched fist denotes a proclaimed unity and strength. Political argument degenerates into shouting the same few words again and again, with the object not of making a point but of intimidating the audience.

The subject matter of demonstrations also has an international flavour. Workers swarm onto the street regularly to demonstrate their anger or to give voice to demands on issues which actually have nothing to do with their interests. Iranian people demonstrating for the Ayatollah and Americans doing the same thing in opposition to him are at one in their ignorance of their own class interests and of the solution to their problems.

The violent gestures and the empty slogans are a device which disguises this ignorance; a ranting mob is motivated by emotions inflamed to a point beyond rational argument. They can hardly see or think; their satisfaction is in the excitement of the marching, the piston fists, the syncopated, screaming slogans.

It might be more hopeful if they were Rentamob. At least then they would be doing it for money; at present they give their allegiance to their respective ruling classes gladly, for free, getting nothing in return except exploitation and contempt. 


Unrelieved gloom from the nationalised British Steel Corporation. Its chairman, Sir Charles Villiers, recently claimed that he could so manage things that the industry would break even by next March. Now he has had to give a different story; losses during the first half of 1979 were £145.6 million and are forecast to reach about £310 million for the whole year.

So will Sir Charles resign after this blinding mistake which suggests that he is not as in touch with the steel industry as he might be?

Well, actually no; instead he will continue with his plans to sack a lot more workers. The works at Corby and Shotton (12,000 workers ‘redundant’) are to be closed, and Villiers’ axe will swing at other plants, where thousands will lose their jobs. Since 1974 the total labour force in the industry has been cut from 228,000 to 182,000 — which has not reversed the industry’s decline.

The future for steel is also bleak. BSC have a capacity to produce some 34 million tonnes a year, but during 1980 they expect to turn out only about 16 million.

Another ‘economy’ measure will be to increase the importing of coking coal from Australia, America and Poland. This does not please that other nationalised concern, the Coal Board, who obviously would like British Steel to behave as if it did not operate under the capitalist social system, with all that that implies in terms of priorities. Those priorities are based on a simple proposition — no profit, no production. That law of capitalism, under which all wealth is produced to be sold at a profit, applies as remorselessly to a state-managed industry as to a private one.

Workers who voted — and who still vote — for nationalisation because they thought a state industry would put humane considerations before capitalism’s economic laws have had a series of nasty shocks. The current condition of the steel industry is the latest — and one of the nastiest. 

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Well, with the exception of the 50 years ago column and the Party directory, that is the whole of the January 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard now uploaded to the internet,

Cheers to Kaz for scanning in the issue for me. Much appreciated.