The Observations Column from the December 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard
Prior to the privatisation of British Steel, the Shares Information Office sent me a letter inviting me to participate in the return of BSC to the private sector. I had been targeted as a likely share buyer because I had previously, in my pre-socialist days, been seduced into laying out money for British Telecom shares. I had subsequently become one of the 900,000 who, between November 1984 and March 1987, disposed of their BT shares. Like many others I discovered that the benefits of popular capitalism applied only to those who already owned the means of production and distribution. To discover whether you belong to the working class or the capitalist class, give up your job and see how long you can afford to live on the dividends from a few shares in British Gas, British Telecom and British Airways.
Founded in 1860 in the heart of the Black Country to manufacture wrought-iron tubes and fittings, the steel works expanded and amalgamated until, in the mid 1960s. it employed over two thousand people and covered an area of forty-nine acres. We lived in a row of terraced houses belonging to the steel company. The amenities were rather basic. Across the yard we had a brewhouse-cum-coalhouse. and an outside lav. Our house was directly opposite the main gates. Close enough to tumble out of bed and be at work when the bull hooted the starting time. My dad spent all his working life in the steel industry. They gave him a gold watch. It was, I supposed, inevitable that I would follow in my dad's footsteps. I well remember that callow but cocky youth who, in the mid sixties, became a wage slave for the first time.
One thing my dad couldn't stand was a bragger. The glossy sales brochure produced by BSC to market its sale gloatingly describes its success as a capitalist enterprise. Potential share buyers are regaled with smug facts and figures relating how within eight years the workforce has been reduced by two-thirds. Great joy surrounds the announcements of improved employee production and reduced employee costs. "Our priority is to develop an informed, motivated and skilled workforce." we are told; By which they mean that they are fully committed to ensure that their employees continue to produce for profit, not for need.
Nationalised or privatised, it makes no difference to workers blue collar, white collar, shop floor or management. Their position remains that of wage/salary slaves forced to sell their labour power in order to live. Despite the glossy brochures and the promise that a few shares give workers some sort of control over their livelihood, the basic wage labour/capital relationship remains unaltered.
Which would you prefer — a gold watch as a "thank you" for a lifetime spent creating wealth for the minority property-owning class, or a classless, moneyless, wageless society where goods are produced for need, not profit. Don't buy capitalism. Take up your option on socialism.