Monday, January 11, 2016

Letter: The UCS "Take Over" (1971)

Letters to the Editors from the November 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Sirs,

On reading your August edition of the Socialist Standard, I was shocked and disappointed at the inaccuracies and blatant lies given out under the heading "Revolt on the Clyde”.

In a previous article entitled “Do You Know About Socialism?” you attack the working class of this country for their placid acceptance of the controls and restrictions placed on them by the capitalist system. And yet when a section of the working class make a stand against this system of suppression you immediately condemn them out of hand for being unrealistic.

The author of the derogatory article states, "That workers in a declining industry like shipbuilding have any economic power capable of overcoming the all too real and socially accepted political power of the government is a myth”. This statement shows a gross ignorance of the world shipbuilding situation today. A little investigation would have shown that the true situation is the reverse of that stated. World tonnage for ships launched has been steadily increasing over the past ten years, and there is no evidence to suppose that this increased demand will not continue.

The statement, "Locked in the yards with no work and no money the workers would only be able to hold out for a short while”, again shows a lack of understanding of the situation. Due to tremendous response from all over Britain in the way of donations to the UCS fighting fund and weekly levies imposed by trade unions, the shop stewards should have sufficient capital to re-employ UCS workers as soon as they are made redundant until March 1972. There is also sufficient work in the yards to keep the men fully occupied until then. By this time it is envisaged that the government will have altered its viewpoint on the situation.

It is further implied in the article that UCS in its present form is not viable, and that the cause has been partially lost because "thousands of Clyde shipyard workers did lose their jobs while Benn was Labour Minister”. May I point out that the thousands mentioned were laid off during the creation of UCS as part of a productivity agreement with the unions concerned. Since then the company has increased productivity and improved labour relations no end and can now confidently quote £5.5m. for the 17,000 ton cargo ships which are so much in demand as against Japan’s quote of £5.3m.

The government sponsored Shipbuilding Industry Board says in its report that the shipyards are in better shape than they have been since the war. "They deserve encouragement and support”.

Since the shop stewards took control of the situation at UCS, words such as "occupation" and "workers’ control” have been bandied about, not by the stewards but by irresponsible articles written by authors lacking in either basic socialist morals or common sense. In direct contrast the men in control of the UCS at present have shown themselves to be responsible, realistic and genuinely concerned about the current unemployment situation.

These men are fighting for The Right to Work, a right regarded by true socialists to be basic and by the present government to be contrary to the theory of capitalism.

A victory for this right just now will not only be a victory for the Clydeside workers, but a victory for all those who regard socialism as the only true and fair system for this country.

I therefore respectfully suggest that your publication refrains from the type of public sniping and destructive criticism we are accustomed to in the capitalist press and get on with the job of educating the people of this country in preparation for socialism.

You could begin by assigning the author of the article to the organisation of appeals on behalf of the UCS fighting fund and therefore practically assist those who are currently leading the fight for a basic socialist principle, The Right to Work.
F. J. Coyle, London, W.5.

We have never condemned the UCS workers. Quite the reverse. The article in question wished them luck “in using their bargaining strength to get the best of redundancy terms they can”. Which is essentially what the so-called work-in is about. It is not the beginning of a workers’ revolution, nor the expropriation of the capitalists at the point of production but, as Mr. Coyle recognises, simply a trade union tactic of an unusual kind.

We do not doubt that the UCS shop stewards are what Mr. Coyle describes as “responsible” and “realistic”. For all their fiery words, they must know that all they can hope for is some deal, either with the government or with some capitalist like Archibald Kelly, that will save as many jobs as possible. It is to their credit that they do not seem to be interested in leading the Clydeside shipworkers into a head-on clash with the forces of the State, despite the nonsense mouthed by those criticised in our article (and despite some of their own earlier statements made in the heat of the moment). In passing, we would challenge the accuracy of saying that the stewards now “control” the yards seeing that for the time being it is also in the interests of the liquidator that work on the unfinished ships goes on.

The shop stewards must know, too, that any deal is bound to involve some redundancies. We stand by what we said on this, that whatever happens some (more) Clydeside shipworkers are bound to lose their jobs because of the profit situation in British shipbuilding. The UCS workers cannot win in the sense of achieving “no redundancies” and any deal the unions and/or the stewards are likely to get—like the last one when Benn was Minister — cannot avoid some men being declared redundant. To assume otherwise is to assume that capitalism can cease to run on profits. This is not to say the workers should not put up a struggle. They should, if only because the more militant they are the better deal they are likely to get, as past trade union struggles have shown.

How successful will be the particular tactic they have adopted remains to be seen. But it is not something to be condemned out of hand just because it has not been tried before (if it was really an attempt to expropriate the capitalists rather than a mere trade union tactic that would be a different matter; that has been tried before with disastrous results and we would have no hesitation in condemning it). The Socialist Party of Great Britain has always given its general support to the industrial side of the class struggle, which is what the UCS workers are involved in, while leaving the specific tactics to be adopted in this struggle to the workers immediately involved. If after considering the situation carefully the UCS workers have democratically decided on a peaceful, disciplined “work-in” that is up to them. As we said, we wish them luck. Mr. Coyle may also be interested in knowing that members of the Socialist Party through their trade unions have contributed to the UCS fighting fund.

Mr. Coyle charges us with certain inaccuracies but he has misunderstood us. First, the reference to shipbuilding as a declining industry was to shipbuilding in Britain not the world. Incidentally, by “economic power” we meant the trade union strength of the shipbuilding workers rather than the competitive position of the shipbuilding industry. Second, does Mr. Coyle think that from August 1971 to March 1972 is not “a short while”? Third, we specifically stated that we were not going to get involved in “board room disputes”. Whether or not UCS in its present form is viable comes into this category and readers can judge from Mr. Coyle’s enthusiastic comments on UCS’s labour relations and costs where this can lead.

Finally, Mr. Coyle seems to think that Socialism could be established just in “this country”. We do not; we say Socialism can only exist on a world-scale. Mr. Coyle also thinks that the so-called Right to Work is a basic socialist principle. We do not, as we explain elsewhere in this issue.
Editorial Committee (October 10)

See also: Report on Clydeside (December 1971 Socialist Standard)

Northern Ireland after internment (1971)

From the October 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

It started on Saturday morning the 7 August, though the scene was being set with progressively accelerating vigour over the weeks and even months before then and, unknown even to his cabinet, the Northern Ireland Prime Minister had returned from London the previous week, after discussions with his political principals, with a package of political dynamite that was to be precipitously cast on the flames of Saturday’s events and create the terror of what has already become known as "Bloody Monday" — or even, according to some, the date of commencement of the Irish Civil War.

Saturday morning commenced with the British Army’s killing of a young man whose car had back-fired as he passed a military post. The killing was carried out while the young man sat in a stationary motor van at traffic lights. The moronic heroes of this latest chapter of growing military homicide issued a series of conflicting reports that did nothing to placate the growing riotous reaction and when, in the afternoon of the same day, the dead man’s workmate, who had been with him in the van, was released from a police station showing on his face and body the grim marks of brutality inflicted by the miiltary and police — attended, of course, by another casual and callous army statement to "look into the matter" another chapter of violence was opened.

Within forty-eight hours the British Military Governor, General Tuzo, unleashed his "security forces" into the Catholic slums to apprehend and intern, without evidence or trial, people whom, for one reason or another, had earned the hatred of the political gangsters running the Northern Ireland statelet. It would be easy to believe that some of those arrested were IRA activists; some were simply members of the Civil Rights Movement and spokesmen for the ghetto Catholics while others were members of the Peoples’ Democracy — a "left-wing" political group whose spokesmen, including some of those arrested, have repeatedly pledged themselves to non-violent action and, indeed, have many times taken issue with the militant Republicans on the question of violence.

The move to intern without trial, involving all the old devices of beating and terror plus a few of the more recent sophisticated ploys developed by the Americans in Vietnam, was obviously aimed not simply at the IRA but at all opposition groups in Northern Ireland. The openly brutal methods of arrest and torture were calculated not only to "punish" those arrested but to terrify those who were not and no one who has subsequently visited the areas where the terror was carried out, and watched and listened to the officer-encouraged arrogance of the soldiers can be left in much doubt that the military have been instructed to see that "law and order" is enforced, if necessary with the boot, the club, the torture chamber and the bullet.

"Bloody Monday" commenced a week that will become a historical milestone in Northern Irish affairs. To those doubting the character of the man, it revealed Brian Faulkner as a power-maniac prepared to unleash the most terrible violence and murder in order to placate the Brutus’s of his own party so that he would not follow the inglorious Ceasars of the last two years. It gave evidence sufficient to indict the British Army’s "supremo", General Tuzo, and his command of many of the vilenesses that occupied and still does, the War Crimes Commission. It exposed the military baloney of the IRA. It showed the hierarchy of the Protestant churches defending the most vicious assaults on their Catholic neighbours — while the Catholic cardinal blethered innocuously! Politically it broke any last hope that Northern Ireland might, some time in the future, be capable of civil government by the Unionists. Finally, and most importantly, it wrote a lesson for the working class; it said "Stop! Look! Think!”

The situation lends itself to the heady patriotic prose that is the stock-in-trade of revolutionary romantics; it creates the background for vitriolic bitterness and dreams of revenge; in its intricacies, it is food for the analytical journalists and “experts”; in its totality it is sadness, tragedy and despair for the working class who are again called upon to offer their dead, their slums, their days of wretched living, for the cause of a Unionist Ulster or a United Ireland.

The question “Why” must not be asked — even of our fellow members of the working class. It is a treason easily adduced from the ravage and conflict by either ’‘side” of the politico-religious divide. Only the struggle, the bitterness, the prayers for revenge are relevant! ‘‘A Fenian burnt out . . .!” ‘‘A fucking soldier got it! ” . . . “We knocked the shit out of them!” But Why? Why? Why? . . . Always the same group answers: “We were burnt out!” . . . “The bastards shot one of our chaps!” . . . "They knocked the shit out of us!”

If we were preaching religion we should perhaps say, and maybe with less inhibition than those preaching religion, “Look, we all have this in common . . .” and use the rhetoric of Shylock to prove that misery, grief and tears, like happiness, love and joy are common to all men — but that has been said from a million pulpits to a thousand wars and there is no record of it ever having retarded the armament industry.

If we were mere politicians we should promise a wholly subdued Unionist Ulster or, perhaps, an “Ulster” where the unionist is written with a small “u” and administration undertaken by a political concoction of orange and green, or, again, we might offer you an “Ulster that is a Province in a ‘Workers’ Republic’, “where the State became the principal employer — but these schemes, like the prayers, have all been tried, here or elsewhere, by myriad politicians in a hundred states and there is no evidence of any of them ending poverty, slumdom, insecurity and violence.

So let’s look again at the Northern Ireland problem. Let’s see if we could wave a magic political wand and bring about conditions in which our particular problem of violence would not exist. Better still, let’s examine the social topography, so to speak, of violence; see where we find it and, equally important, where we don’t find it.

Where are the richest recruiting areas of the battalions of IRA, UVF, Paisleyite militants, etc? Not Belfast’s Malone Road, to be sure! Not even the comfortable semi-“D’s” of better-off workers with above-average wages and a modicum of job security. To be sure, they may be affected with the current hatreds but their bigotries, like their family scandals, are rarely publicly displayed. Like the master class, who they ape, they don’t put out flags or bunting to commemorate some garbled version of history. Theirs might be some indefinite pandering to some shade of orange or green but it comes low in their order of priorities; below “getting on”, having the kids “educated” or the garden tidy. It might reach the level of the Protestant Telegraph or the United Irishman but only in the concealment of the Newsletter or The Irish Times. Never does it achieve a vigour that necessitates the rumble of armoured cars and raucousness of ill-kempt soldiery.

The “extremists” come from the slums; from the back-to-back houses of the Falls, the Shankill, Ballymacarrett and all the other areas of miserable existence whose names have become “Hill 60’s” in the present struggle. They come, too, from the estates of “working class dwellings” where food, clothing and peace of mind are mortgaged for the frugal comforts of electric heaters, Great Universal shoddiness and Woolworth culture. And they come from the small farms where the age-old problems of bare existence are accentuated by the progress of agricultural capitalism.

These are the addresses of the political “extremists”, the felons, the internees and the rioters. This is the geography of misery where live and die, the victims of a rottenness that now condemns them.

While Unionism can be blamed for facilitating the easy identification of capitalism’s problems with religious bigotry, it certainly can not be blamed for the fact that, like all the other political parties throughout the world, it has failed to eliminate, or even make tolerable, the basic poverty features of the system and, in the Northern Ireland context, provide the social and economic conditions conducive to peace and community harmony. Given the fact that the system of social organisation operating in Northern Ireland is capitalism, and allowing for the competitive disadvantages of local geography and lack of indigenous raw materials, the record of the Unionist Party was as good, or as bad, as most other parties operating capitalism elsewhere and certainly no worse than the “Republican” capitalism of the south of Ireland.

The big question now is, what is to be done? Obviously British capitalism, already subsidising Unionism to the tune of some £200 million annually, will not be prepared to increase that subsidy with the presence of thousands of troops indefinitely and, with the mounting casualties among British servicement, an already-unpopular British government must fear the back-lash of British public opinion. Again, local capitalism, an immediate casualty of the conflict, is becoming increasingly anxious for peace.

Sooner or later the politicians will get around the table to work out a “political solution”; yesterday’s angry words will be forgotten, today’s “unacceptable” will become “reasonable compromises”, undertakings will be given and received, smiling photographs will be taken, peace will be restored and the workers will go back to work or to the dole.

If it stops murder, arson and intimidation it will, of course be good and the politicians will not be slow to take credit for ending what they, and the system they serve, began. But beyond that, as far as the working class are concerned, what will it all mean?

Only the establishment of a society in which the productive resources are owned in common by all and harnessed to the function of producing an abundance of the material requirements of a full and happy life for all, will eliminate finally and for ever the material basis of conflict and social discontent among people. Essentially, such a condition must be world-wide but the promotion of its need among the working class in Northern Ireland now reveals the hollowness of those conflicts to which workers presently lend themselves and speeds the day of its universal application.

The “practical” men of politics will, of course, say “It doesn’t do anything about the situation we now find ourselves in”. Such “practical” men have always been looking for a quick patch-up answer to rescue us from the repetitive problems of capitalism and capitalism keeps them constantly supplied with problems requiring “immediate" solutions! In Northern Ireland it is painfully obvious — and this is sometimes alleged by enemies of Unionism and sometimes offered as an excuse by Unionism — that it is the shortcomings of the system, and the system is capitalism, — the poverty, slums, joblessness, etc. — that forms the basis of friction and fratracidal strife. The actuality of violence, on the other hand, is provided by the programmes and schemes of the “practical” men with ideas for planning capitalism — and capitalism is production for the market and the wages and money systems whether ownership is vested in individuals or the national state — in such a way as will make that system run contrary to its nature.

To such “practical” men we have nothing to say; we would not attempt to tempt them away from the reality or the promise of privilege and political office with a vision of a world where the “Northern Ireland Problem” could not exist. To the working class we say: the schemes of the politicians and the generals, real and imagined, are irrelevant; they contain nothing new; they are but the old failed notion that capitalism administered by the “right” people can function in the interests of all — each, of course in "his station” — or the newer, but equally failed, notion that capitalism, despite its production for profit motive, its wages exploitation and money trick, can be tolerable under the direct aegis of the national State.
Richard Montague

Defending the indefensible (1986)

From the January 1986 issue of the Socialist Standard

Last September the Islington Branch Organiser invited Mark MacGregor, chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students, to debate against the Socialist Party As democrats we favour dealing with the ideas of our opponents in public, letting workers decide which side is talking sense. MacGregor, who was approached at his office at Conservative Party headquarters, agreed to the date, time and terms of the debate. Our Organiser then wrote to him. asking for written confirmation. The Islington branch was informed of MacGregor's acceptance, a socialist speaker was appointed, and activity was set in motion to advertise the event.

By mid-October there was no written confirmation from MacGregor, so another telephone call was made to Tory HQ. MacGregor agreed he had accepted the invitation to debate but stated that he had changed his mind and was now against the idea. Had he intended to reply to our letter? He said that he had no intention of replying. "But that would have left us proceeding on the assumption that you were going to turn up". MacGregor was told; "That would just have been too bad", he replied. So much for Tory democracy.

Having planned a debate for 14 November and gone to some trouble to publicise the event, we were not to be deterred by the undemocratic practices of Mark MacGregor (whose organisational tactics are apparently deplored by many members of his party). Derek Laud - a parliamentary assistant to a Tory MP - agreed to step in as replacement speaker and confirmed his willingness to accept the date, time and format of the debate.

On 14 November the Islington branch meeting room was packed to capacity. Fifty non-members of the Party and almost as many members crowded in to hear the two sides and to have their say. The debate was scheduled to begin at 8pm At 8.05 the chairman apologised for the late start; Laud had not arrived. By 8.15 there was obvious impatience from the large crowd. It was explained that Laud had received a letter giving him all the details, including the starting time. At 8.20 the representative of the party "making Britain efficient" rolled into the room. He apologised for being late. The socialist speaker used every second of his time, leaving his opponent more to deal with than he proved capable of tackling. Laud managed to keep going for ten minutes and then sat down. In fairness, one should not blame him entirely for the pathetic effort: he was, after all, trying to defend the indefensible.

It is a basic democratic practice at Socialist Party meetings to allow time for questions and discussion. So, after the two speakers had opened up the chairman called for questions, pointing out that these would be followed by contributions from the floor. This format had been explained clearly in a letter to Laud and he had accepted it in writing. At this point, however, he objected to having to answer questions and stated (we quote from the tape recording): "I will not answer any questions. I reserve the right to remain silent ". Obviously, Laud had about as much confidence in his arguments as most people in the room did.

The question period proceeded with only the socialist speaker answering questions — all from non-members. After a while Laud reluctantly agreed to answer one question only. Thirty minutes later he walked out — he had remembered "an urgent engagement". The explanation was dear: his ideas had been destroyed and he was left with no answers. The meeting continued for another hour and proved to be one of the best of several lively meetings which Islington branch has run in 1985.

(A tape recording of the debate can be obtained from the Tapes Committee at Head Office.)

News (1971)

From the September 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Standard is never out of date! It is not intended to bring "hard" news but rather to examine the minutae of capitalism as governments, politicians, businessmen, trades unions, etc. contort in serious gestures of faith, hope and charity in an effort to alleviate — they seldom now say "eradicate" — some grosser feature of the constant factor in our social equation, capitalism itself.

As socialists we hold, and can demonstrate, that it is this constant factor, capitalism, with its reduction of the essentials of life to the status of mere commodities simply for sale and profit, that is at the basis of the problems with which the politicians, employers' organisations, trades unions and others are concerned.

It is this constant factor which almost always forms the basis of "news" and, inevitably, lies beneath the surface of the political unrest, the street violence and localised wars which bring the world’s newsmen to this or that area of the earth to transmit their drama-packed headlines or pictures to the various news media.

The real news is history; it is the story of capitalism breaking out here or there — like a ghastly rash on the body social, yielding temporarily in one area to some political ointment but remaining unyielding In the political and economic bloodstream. Bursting through the skin of complaisance in Belfast while Aden is being treated ... or Vietnam ... or Jordan ... or Pakistan or any of the other hundred areas of great or large conflict that made news since the last bout of world blood-letting that was to end the practice.

The political practitioners are always in attendance with their commanders of death in waiting and their priests praying for peace or victory — as the need dictates. These are the people who make "news" on the pages adjoining Andy Capp or Superman; the merchants of death and misery whose "abilities" could only find a meaningful outlet in a society where human beings live and die in hunger in the midst of potential abundance, where palaces are built for the gods of religion and commerce and hovels remain for people, where science deals in death and philosophy in hate.

These things are "news" despite the fact that only the scene of the action changes, or the accent of the voice of hypocrisy or the face before the unchanging minds of the leaders — minds sick on the foul values of capitalism.

This is the ghastly masquerade of capitalism; yesterday's stale news in the trappings of today. France, Germany, Russia, Japan, the Near, Middle and Far East, Hungary, Poland, Algeria, Israel, Cuba, Cyprus. Ireland to mention a very few of the places where the political ointment of capitalism is drying or being applied. Mere labels on the news-hound's bags that will travel again tomorrow for more of the same thing.

Only the places, the names, change; the constant factor, capitalism, remains!

This is why the SOCIALIST STANDARD is never dated True, we too. if somewhat belatedly, deal with the “news" but we are not concerned with the shadows, the new places for old deeds, the application of capitalism's ointments. We are concerned with the real cause, with capitalism We are concerned with exposing the inefficiency of capitalism's political quackery and winning our fellow-workers to a realisation of the need for political surgery in order to eliminate the constant factor and creating a society where "news" will be the continuing story of man's progress from the pre-history of capitalism
Richard Montague