Saturday, July 8, 2017

Editorial: Everybody out . . . (2002)

Editorial from the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard

Oh for the glory days of the 1970s! Men huddled around braziers at the factory gates, collars turned up on their duffle coats to protect them from the biting wind. Mass meetings, addressed by the great union leaders, with hundreds of hands lifting in unison to support the motion of the day. Left-wing paper sellers on every picket line, hawking Militant and Socialist Worker to "the workers in struggle". Those were the days indeed . . .

Before the last general election, Arthur Scargill, leader of the Socialist Labour Party and no stranger to picket lines himself, was asked about how his vision for the future seemed curiously stuck in the past - specifically the 1970s. Though meant as a criticism, Scargill took this comment from a hostile interviewer as a compliment, saying that this was exactly what he wanted to return to. Reading the newspapers at the moment, you would be forgiven for thinking that his wish has become a reality.

For the first time in some years, the UK seems beset by industrial disputes. Whereas as recently as 1998, the working days lost to industrial action in this county were the lowest on record, working class militancy has seemingly returned. At the time of writing there are ongoing disputes taking place concerning workers in the RMT rail union, the Post Office Workers Union, staff at Manweb/Scottish Power and many others besides. This has stirred the right-wing press into one of its periodic frenzies against the "wreckers" who care nothing for business and little for the paying customer.

But why this flurry of activity all of a sudden? Well, there's no surprise perhaps beyond the fact that it hasn't happened sooner. When the rail companies have been short of drivers and there are not enough trains for the passengers to cram into it is hardly surprising there is going to be industrial action of some sort – quite simply, train drivers have managed to increase their pay levels as the competing train operators desperately vie for their services. Others in the rail sector understandably want to follow suit, also mindful of the type of "salaries" paid in recent years to the so-called "fat cats" at the top of the companies. As even the Guardian recently put it, if the fat cats have been creaming off the milk for so long then why can't the thin cats get in on the act?

Added to this is the fact that the economy is just about entering its tenth year of fairly sustained growth (notwithstanding the recent slowdown) and this growth has led to levels of unemployment that are historically low for this last twenty or thirty years. In these circumstances, workers are likely to push all they can to safeguard the conditions of workers in any threatened industries as the inevitable downturn looms and yet push for wage claims which outstrip the level of price rises whenever they can in sectors where the profits seem to be healthy. Workers at Consignia (formerly the Post Office) are a good example of the former, being employed in a sector that has been under attack from management for several years prior to privatisation and which is now a comparative hotbed of militant trade unionism as the company tries to reduce its costs by £1.2 billion and the workers try to defend their position. In other sectors of the economy the workers continue to press more proactively for big wage increases - but at a time when management is just starting to become wary of an impending downturn in the economy. The result can often be an industrial dispute.

Socialists are, of course, on the side of the "thin cats" not the "fat cats" in these disputes. Wage and salary earners are the subject class in capitalism, selling our abilities to the owners and controllers of wealth for wages and salaries that are just enough to keep us in reasonable working order given the historical conditions in which we find ourselves.

Indeed, based on our understanding of this situation, our advice to workers is threefold:

  • Try to push wages and salaries as high as they are allowed to go by the owners and management;
  • Organise democratically to achieve your aims, without reliance on "leaders", who will sell you down the river;
  • Recognise that any union struggle is necessarily a defensive one as there can be no real and lasting "victory" within the profit system.
Given the extent to which employment law in the UK has been skewed even further towards the bosses in the last twenty years, a repeat of the 1970s is unlikely and we suspect that Arthur Scargill should not get too excited for the moment (nor his like-minded friends in the Trot-dominated "Socialist Alliance").

Trade unions are essentially fighting over the crumbs. Socialists long ago raised our sights beyond the crumbs (necessary though that fight is within the system) to fight instead for control of the whole bakery. That way we will not be perpetually doomed to repeat the battles of the past, however they may be talked up as "subversive" acts by the mouthpieces of capital in the press, or how "glorious" they are portrayed as being by the self-styled leaders of the left.

‹ No. 1170 February 2002

Sting in the Tail: Perks of the Job (1992)

The Sting in the Tail column from the July 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard

Perks of the Job
Whenever one of Europe’s African colonies achieved independence its new black ruling class quickly adopted the luxurious lifestyle of its white predecessors.

In South Africa the leaders of the African National Congress are introducing themselves to the good things In life. According to The Independent on Sunday (17 May) Nelson Mandela has bought a "spacious new home in gracious Houghton, Johannesburg's answer to Hampstead", for £100,000, but this is probably a hovel compared to ANC chairman Oliver Tambo's £500,000 house in Sandhurst, "the most expensive suburb In the country".

Their good taste also extends to cars: a national executive member "recently remarked that the underground garage at ANC headquarters looked like a Mercedes and BMW showroom".

In one way the ANC leaders are different from those black ruling classes elsewhere in Africa: they aren't waiting until they actually get their hands on political power before they get them on capitalism's little luxuries.

Baying for Blood
Aren't our policemen wonderful? At the annual conference of the Police Federation in Scarborough a call to abandon their policy of restoring hanging was heavily defeated.

Not even the examples of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the numerous other innocent people who would be dead if hanging was still law, made any difference to this bloodthirsty mob.

Pro-hanging delegates raged at liberals, wets, do-gooders, etc., and the conference was urged to "Remember our murdered colleagues" (The Guardian 22 May).

So, in the Federation's eyes killers should hang, but do they think this should apply to policemen who were later found to have had innocent people convicted and hanged on trumped-up murder charges?

Taming the Trots
During the mid 1970s the Socialist Party in Glasgow had competition for a while at its Saturday outdoor meetings from some young Trotskyists of the long-since vanished International Marxist Group.

Their speakers outdid one another In demanding violent insurrection, denouncing the Labour Party and ridiculing electoral activity. One in particular was fond of telling his audience "we don't want your votes, It's your ACTION we want!"

During this year's local elections, there on TV was a Labour Party official condemning the Trotskyists of Scottish Militant and especially Tommy Sheridan. He looked familiar. . . yes, it was that same firebrand from the 1970s!

This poacher-turned-gamekeeper is now one of "the leading lights in the movement to rid the city of Militant" (The Glaswegian 16 May), and his attitude to votes has changed too: he was an unsuccessful Labour candidate at the general election and in the May local elections he lost again to . . .  Tommy Sheridan!

The spectacle of Trotskyist zealots ending up as Labourites is a familiar one, and nobody should bet against the same thing happening, sooner or later, to the current crop in Scottish Militant.

In a Nutshell
The killing and atrocities in what was Yugoslavia are being blamed by the West (the US and Its allies) on Serbia and in particular its leader Slobodan Milosevic.

A letter writer in The Guardian (27 May) pointed out the double standards used by the West in condemning Serbia for the use of force while remaining silent when East Tlmoreans, Thai demonstrators, Latin American peasants and Indians, Palestinian refugees and the victims of Pol Pot are slaughtered.

He added that whatever crimes Milosevic may be guilty of
He has a long way to go before he can be classed with the likes of Pinochet, Duvalier, Suharto, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Samuel Doe and D'Aubuisson, all of who enjoyed the protection of the US while perpetrating unspeakable atrocities.
"Mean Jeane” Kirkpatrick, a prominent member of the Reagan administration, summed up very well the view taken by the US government of the above-mentioned murderers, when she said - "They may be bastards, but they are our bastards."

High Street Massacre
The news that Lloyd's bank has dropped its bid for Midland bank has been welcomed by the banking trade union BIFU.

If the takeover had succeeded then Lloyd's, besides getting rid of a major competitor, would have made huge savings by closing 1,000 High Street branches and cutting 20,000 jobs.

BIFU opposed the proposed takeover and accused Lloyd's of being more interested in bigger profits for its shareholders than it was in worker's jobs!

But this is only normal practice in capitalism. British banks cut 40,000 jobs in 1990-91 with possibly another 30,000 in 1992, and all this without any takeovers.

The fact is that there are too many banks in Britain competing for the available business. To make matters worse the building societies are now providing banking services so the pressure to cut jobs will continue.

BIFU should know that banks, like any other business, exist to make as much profit as possible and not to provide jobs for workers.