Monday, May 16, 2016

"Gone are the days" - TU Leader in Distress (1973)

From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard

Joe Gormley, the President of the Mineworkers' Union, has now had a dose of second thoughts. From being a dangerous and inflammatory militant intent on “wrecking the country” by a General Strike he has now become, according to the same News of the World, regarded “as a moderate”.

Gone are the days (only a few weeks ago) when nothing but “an immediate General Strike” to oust the Tory Government would suit him; and the Editor of the News of the World was calling on the General Council of the TUC to “drag him back from the brink”. So far from calling on trade unions to mount a General Strike, he is now calling on Ted Heath to “get back to free bargaining”. Which only goes to show how empty and meaningless all this fierce-sounding talk about General Strikes really is.

The point of his current piece in the News of the World (12th May) is to plead with Heath in the forthcoming round of talks with the TUC to “stop the rent increases and scrap the Industrial Relations Act”. If the Government will do this AND deal with inflation and “rising prices of basic foods like meat, bread, milk, butter and potatoes”, he is sure the unions “will deliver the goods”.

What a change of heart! No more “kick out the Tories”, “General Strikes to elect a new Government”, and so on, etc. He claims that the reason his own miner members voted against strike action this year is “because they were a wee bit tired from last year’s little effort”. The miners were not made tired by striking. Every worker engaged in heavy laborious manual work welcomes a strike as a short break or relief from physical exhaustion. The reason the miners voted against strike action this Spring was because they had not yet settled the debts the last strike landed them in.

In other words, the employers will always beat the workers at the strike game, if the situation is such that they are determined to. The miners showed that they are powerful enough industrially to paralyze industry and force the employers to concede. The employers will do so if they think it cheaper than a fight to a finish.

“All workers want”, Gormley writes, “is more money to meet the rise in the cost of living, plus a little extra on top to raise their living standards.” “Give us,” he whines, “the right to negotiate our pay increases. That way, we’ll have far less industrial trouble than with the Government ramming its pay policy dowN our throats.”

Five weeks previously he was shouting for the General Strike; now, less “industrial trouble”. As a cute and canny, experienced trade-unoin leader, he realizes, from the vote of his own members and the futility of the May 1st demonstration, that the practical possibility of political strikes is, at the moment, nil. He has backed away from “the brink”.

Regarding his presumption to speak for "all workers want”, we have only this to say. Probably he is right that the great majority of workers “only” want more money plus a little increase. Actually they would all prefer a big increase, but don’t dare to think of it.

Those trade unionists who are Socialists do not want merely wage increase, large or small, welcome though these may well be; but the abolition of the wages system. But here, unfortunately, Poor Old Joe, as a practical union leader, is a bit out of his depth. 

The Films (1955)

Film Reviews from the May 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the Curzon Cinema recently there was an excellent programme, both from the point of view of the film-lover and of the Socialist. The films are De Sica’s Umberto D and a Spanish family comedy called Meet Mr. Marshall.

Umberto D has been described by the filmic “blurbs" as “De Sica’s masterpiece,” and this seems to be one of the few occasions when they are right The film seems to be much nearer perfection than De Sica’s two most famous earlier films—Bicycle Thieves and Miracle in Milan. It is the story of an Italian old-age pensioner and his mongrel dog, and lays bare the misery and unbearable loneliness that workers suffer in their old age.

The film opens with a demonstration by old-age pensioners for an increase in their pensions. The demonstrators have no permit and, inevitably, they are dispersed by steel-helmeted police in jeeps. The film goes on to show in agonising detail the neglect of the old; the indifference of the majority of the young; the distrust even of other old people; and their attempt to cling to their last vestiges of human dignity.

The principal character in the film, a retired government employee, is in arrears with his rent His landlady, a brassy blonde singer, is anxious to throw him out in order to convert his pitiful single room into a parlour. Umberto (that is his name) who has lived in the room for years, is determined not to leave, and sells first his watch and then his books in a despairing effort to rake the money for the rent. In order to save money, he gets himself admitted into a hospital for a week. When he returns home he finds his room in a shambles, his landlady having taken advantage of his absence to start work on the flat. Despairing and tired of life, the only thing left to the old man is his dog, and it is his love for the dog alone that gives him the will to go on living.

The story is all on this simple and unheroic level but, needless to say, has far greater impact than any Hollywood “epic.” I will not spoil the film-goers pleasure by further description of the plot but will be content with some observations on the social implications of the film.

Perhaps the most pitiful and most crying problem that capitalism has thrown up is its treatment of its workers in old age. Condemned to inactivity and loneliness by the “Great God Profit” for which they have sweated away the greater part of their life, they are generously granted an old-age pension which has rightly been described as the final insult to the worker. There is no doubt that it is among the old, both of this country and of the other “civilised” countries, that the problem of poverty is at its most acute. They are condemned to exist on what is no more than a pittance, often in complete loneliness.

Owing to the nature of the Society in which we live, their children are often unable or unwilling to care for them, or even to help support them. The majority have the further indignity of having to apply to the National Assistance Board for money, who enquire closely into their means and capital and also whether they have any relatives capable of supporting them. This film does a very worth-while job in spotlighting this problem, and De Sica (whose Bicycle Thieves flowed that he was alive to the social problems of our day) is to be complimented for doing so and and for making a great film.

The other film in the programme provides the necessary light relief. It is an extremely amusing satire from Spain which turns on the fact that the world in general, and America in particular, looks upon Spain as being a land of gypsy dancers, bullfights, and peculiar hats. The little town portrayed in the film is in the province of Castile, and is as unlike the outsider’s concept of Spain as Devon or Cornwall.

The mayor, who is in co-operation with the rest of the population in "fiddling” their taxes, is informed that the American “Marshall Aid” officials will be visiting the town and showering their dollars wherever they go, and that a suitable welcome and demonstration must be prepared for them. The satire, not only aimed at America, but at almost everything and everybody, is carried out to great effect The sequences in which the principal personages of the town dream about America are particularly good. The town priest, for instance, dreams that he is cross-examined by typical Hollywood gangsters and subsequently, dragged before an inquisition of Ku Klux Klan members who sentence him to the gallows. This seems to be aimed, not only at the "K.K.K.” but also at the Catholic Church and the inquisition.

It is perhaps surprising that a satire of this kind should have come out of Spain, considering that unhappy country's political institutions and economic circumstances, but one frequently finds that films and books of high quality spring from the most unexpected quartos. A good example is Los Olvidados, an excellent film about poverty and juvenile delinquency in Mexico City which showed living conditions at their most debased, and which was sponsored by the Mexican government.

We find sometimes that people who are not Socialists have facilities for vividly illustrating things that we say. I would look at Umberto D in that light. Perhaps I can reiterate that this programme is well worth a visit. Both Socialists and those who do not accept our point of view will come away feeling mentally stimulated.
Albert Ivimey