Sunday, December 10, 2017

Welsh Workers See Storms Ahead (1945)

From the March 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

A typical piece of modem capitalist industrial development—affecting principally the Swansea-Llanelly area this time—was announced towards the end of January by Mr. Hugh Dalton, President of the Board of Trade (South Wales Evening Post, January 29, 1945). It is an occasion with some useful lessons for Socialists.

It followed closely upon arrangements for merging two of Britain's largest steel and tinplate concerns—Richard Thomas's and Baldwins—and was dead in line with the modern capitalist tendency to concentrate wealth and prosperity in fewer and fewer hands. Now Mr. Dalton, with a pontifical gravity well suited to a political administrator of grand imperial capitalism, proclaimed that Richard Thomas’s, Baldwins, Quest, Keen, Nettlefolds, Briton Ferry Steel and Llanelly Steel were collaborating with a view .to the erection of a hot-strip mill for tinplates and sheets at Port Talbot. This was heralded by the local evening paper with the sort of gravely respectful headlines that it uses for royal visits. The renovation of archbishoprics, and sensations in stocks-and-shares adventures. “Four companies combining to modernise industry,” it commences, quite moderate, rising crescendo to a perfect paean of worshipful ecstasy—'‘Passing of bad old days.”

Before we allow ourselves to be lifted into the blue by the angelic upsurge of adoration for those modern saints, the captains of industry, let us look at some of the cold sober facts that are always related to this sort of capitalist attainment (which is, of course, the usual, inevitable flowering of Big Business).

Concentration of capital—fewer capitalists owning more—is the integral factor. Second aspect is that of a major offensive in the perpetual war between contending capitalist interests. In this case, the war for markets between the American and British steel and tinplate industries. The Americans won a great initial advantage by their early adoption of the "strip mill ” system, whereby the whole process of production, from raw material to finished bulk product, is carried out on one site, like the introduction of a pig into one end of a machine and its emergence as neatly labelled sausages at the other. American steel and tinplates, produced more cheaply than their British competitor, bade fair to dominate the markets of the world. All the blood shed on the Western Front could not damp the ardour of the coming battle on the industrial field. To-day the hand is grasped, to-morrow the throat:, what does it matter to the industrial princes? This hungry, frustrated unemployed are unspectacular casualties. . . . 

But here comes the British counter-blow: British interests, too, adopt the strip mill. A strategic victory! But before we cheer ourselves hoarse, let us look at the probable cost. It is not peculiar; it always happens on grand occasions of this sort: it has happened before, or other things like it, in our rough island story, and it will happen again. In this case, one single huge highly economical concern will be able to dominate Britain's share of a great world industry from Port Talbot. To the West, in places like the Dulais and Llwchwr districts, the older-fashioned methods will be unable to compete: unemployment will increase in those areas astronomically, and only a small number of the displaced could be absorbed in the new strip mill. There will be many slender post-war wage packets (or dole packets!) in West Glamorgan, but "these things, you know, must be in every famous victory."

Yet, goodness knows, there is enough need for things made of steel and tinned plate to keep a dozen Port Talbots and a lot more Gorseinons, Loughors, etc., working full-pelt for ever; and it could be that way, too, if only we had Socialism, and things were produced solely for use instead of as commodities to bring profits for the owner class. Under capitalism improved methods of production, such as strip mill, mean higher and safer profits for the owner class. They also threaten many workers, often whole communities, with poverty, insecurity, ruin. Under Socialism such improvements will mean a higher standard of living for the whole community.
John Jennings

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