From the June 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
Many trade unions had a warm regard for the apparently benevolent, paternal State Electricity Commission (SEC). Even its own employees did, believing that under its wing they had a snug, safe refuge from social confusion, insecurity, and discomfort. However, militancy is now becoming a noticeable feature of these state employees.
The onward rolling wheel of capitalist development and expansion is forever killing off illusions, and unionists, militant or otherwise, are continually having to face, on widening fronts and at increasing speeds, the nasty reality of the class struggle, even against their own illusions about 'Socialism’.
Increasingly during the past year the SEC, the main source of industrial and domestic electrification of the state of Victoria, has made no bones about assuming the traditional ’bad guy’ role of the master capitalist in its dealing with its employees.
Dr. Connolly, in an address to the Morwell Chamber of Commerce last October 31, directly lends us his aid in the task of exposing some of the "widely held misconceptions about the SEC.” Says he:
On the capital side, we have the continuing problem of raising enough money in an increasingly competitive money market. We have also to service our capital expenditure and. pay interest on money borrowed, and this enters into our operating costs—it is perfectly obvious that the SEC cannot operate inefficiently simply to provide employment: nor build a new power station that is not economically justified simply for the purpose of making a job for contractors to maintain a high level of construction employment.
Thus, in the holy name of ’problems and efficiency of capital’ invested in the SEC, he justifies the shutting down of briquette-coal-processing factories and removal of old plant from service, the closing down of camps or raising of accommodation rates, and the downgrading of workers to lower jobs with a corresponding fall in the hourly rate of wages.
Conditions of employment, accommodation, industrial and trade status, and wages fought for over many years and gained during periods of labour scarcity now are cut back as labour scarcity becomes changed into a glut as a direct result of rising productivity. Here again, state capitalism, on an impressive scale, exposes the once popular fiction that wages can be raised only as a result of rising productivity. On this Marxists have always been aware that increasing productivity has never been for the amiable purpose of raising wages, but for increasing profits and protecting capital. Ceaselessly we have exposed the fact that the workers' share of wealth produced constantly has to fall. In the present case, rising productivity leads directly not merely to a relative but also to an actual fall in living standards and a deterioration of working conditions.
How does this SEC treatment of its wage workers differ from that of the traditional capitalist? There is no difference. And why? Dr Connolly advises the Chamber of Commerce on the nature of State Capitalism and in doing so repeats what we have long been shouting from the rooftops. He says:
We have the same problem, the same challenge as every other manufacturer in this competitive age;—we must hold down our unit cost of production and distribution. We must, in fact, strive by every means possible to reduce the cost of supplying a kilowatt hour of electricity to consumers.
C. P. Furey
(Socialist Party of Australia)