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