Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Bitter Fruits of Nationalisation (1948)

Editorial from the November 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

Over 40 years ago when the S.P.G.B. was formed nationalisation was being preached by the I.L.P. and other organisations and was being exposed by the S.P.G.B. Our case was, and still is, that capitalism is not ended by nationalisation but merely, undergoes a change of form; and to those who argued that even so it had certain small advantages the S.P.G.B. replied that there is one respect in which the worker under a State-owned concern is worse off than before: he can no longer hope to get a job elsewhere in the industry if he gets the sack and is blacklisted. The workers who delightedly celebrated the nationalisation of the mines are just discovering how right we were as will be seen from the News Chronicle's account of events at mines in the East Midlands. It is reported that "miners guilty of habitual absenteeism in the E. Midlands division are being sacked and barred completely from the coal mining industry” (News Chronicle, 2/10/48).

It is stated by a News Chronicle reporter that nearly all Derbyshire, Nottingham and Leicestershire pits are “carrying out 'purges’ of miners who stay away from work without excuse.”
  "At Creswell colliery, near Mansfield, the names of eight men sacked from the pit are being publicly displayed on the notice board outside the colliery baths. The notice declares that these men are not eligible for employment at other collieries.” 
An official of the E. Midlands Goal Board stated that the posting of names was done on the proposal of the men's representatives themselves, but it did not receive universal approval, for one miner (not himself affected) who had been employed at the colliery for 42 years, told the reporter that it was "the wickedest thing I have ever seen posted up at any pit since I started work at the age of 13.” He added
  "I see nothing wrong in dismissing a man for not following his employment, but this does not stop at dismissal. It brands him before the public and makes it impossible for him to find employment elsewhere. I feel that nothing worse has been practised in Germany or Russia.”
Doubtless those who in their muddled way supported nationalisation did not foresee this consequence, but what have they to say about it now? And particularly Mr. Ernest Bevin who, when he was Minister of Labour in 1941, spoke against such methods of industrial discipline. In a debate in Parliament on April 2nd, 1941, Mr. Bevin made the following remarks:— 
  "Some hon. Member, I do not remember who it was, said that industry relies upon the power of dismissal to maintain discipline. What does that mean? It means that there is an economic drive on the workman to work, the ability to force your will on another by the imposition of starvation, which inculcates fear and resentment in the other man’s mind. By relying on that you do not get the right kind of discipline. . . . That means that the basic condition upon which your system is run has been starvation or the ability to make another citizen unemployed. Well, that has meant war.” (Parliamentary Report, 2/4/1941. Column 1076.)
We can imagine Mr. Bevin’s answer if the question were now put to him whether he still holds those views. He would probably say, “I thought so then and I think so now, but what are we to do if men still won’t work in spite of the fact that the mines are no longer run on capitalist lines.”

And this brings us back to the point from which we started. Nationalisation is not Socialism, but State Capitalism. The mines are run on capitalist lines and with a capitalist purpose, that of making a profit in order to continue the payment year by year of millions of pounds of interest to capitalist investors, both the former owners and those who invest new money through the Coal Board. It may be an amiable delusion on Mr. Bevin’s part to hope to have socialist incentives operating under capialism, but it is a delusion just the same.

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