From the December 1976 issue of the Socialist Standard
Anyone on the dole will probably not take long to come across the Right to Work Campaign which, during the past year or so, has been particularly vociferous in its condemnation of unemployment. Under the guidance of the National Rank-and-File Organizing Committee marches, public meetings and petitions against unemployment have been arranged by this campaign. Back in March there was a special protest walk between Manchester and London. In September many of the leftists who support the campaign marched down to Brighton to picket the TUC.
The obvious feature of these demonstrations is that they are dominated by organizations such as International Socialists, the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and the Communist Party, together with groups of members from the Labour Party and trade unions. Like the women’s liberation groups, CND. Shelter, the squatting campaigns and the “Troops Out of Northern Ireland” movement, the Right to Work Campaign is not concerned with fundamental social change. A survey of their demands as printed in their literature and stated in speeches at their public meetings reveals that this campaign is concerned with trying to secure the creation of jobs. Along with this, the campaign makes reformist demands which might be expected: equal rights for women, a thirty-five-hour week, stopping cuts in government expenditure, etc.
Methods advocated include the nationalization of private industries, the occupation of factories, and overtime bans. All these methods have been tried before. A “Right to Work” campaign is nothing new, nor are ideas of direct action by workers to try to preserve jobs. Similar campaigns have been launched in the past in various countries. In Italy shortly after the end of World War One workers by the thousand occupied factories in an attempt to keep their jobs secure; and, of course, in Britain during the nineteen-thirties there were marches and demonstrations against unemployment and the creation of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. The fact is that whenever capitalism is in a depression the “left” seeks to increase its following by urging workers to resist unemployment.
The record of these movements is not only that they have achieved nothing, but the capitalist class has ignored them. In several cases instead of the condition of the working class being improved, more authoritarian governments have emerged. In 1921-22 in Italy, the efforts of workers to overcome unemployment by occupying factories were rapidly succeeded by Mussolini’s right-wing government which established fascism. More recently, in France attempts at syndicalism in the spring of 1968 were followed by the French electorate giving a stronger mandate to the Gaullist government. The earliest “Right to Work” campaign took place during an economic recession in France in 1848. Groups of workers in Paris were encouraged to take more militant and violent action. Troops were sent against them and a “government of order” was eventually established under Louis Napoleon.
Under the capitalist system the right to employment does not and cannot exist. Those who have sympathy with the Right to Work Campaign should ask themselves whose duty it is to provide this work. Production under capitalism does not take place to satisfy people’s needs but to produce goods to be sold at a profit. The nature of a trade recession is that for the time being goods cannot be sold as they are in boom periods: production therefore has to slow down or cease. The Right-to-Work campaigners do not say how a right to produce and distribute unmarketable commodities can be given effect. The situation is underlined by unemployment figures from all over the world, both in the past and at present.
But that’s not all! Not only is the Right to Work Campaign by its very existence dooming its supporters to disillusionment. If a quick recovery from the depression gave the appearance that it had partly succeeded, this would only confirm the working class in an acceptance of capitalism. After all, what is so wonderful about employment — being exploited? No, hasten the day when the majority of workers will reject syndicalism and reformism in all their guises including campaigns like this. Hasten the day when the majority will realize that the only wav out from a world of unemployment and generally meaningless employment under capitalism is by democratically abolishing that system and establishing Socialism. In such a system unemployment would not only be a feature of the past, but there would be an abundance of purposeful and interesting work.