Saturday, February 27, 2021

Neither coal or dole (1993)

From the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard
  "The underground mining of coal is an arduous and potentially dangerous occupation, even using modern mechanised methods . . . the mining of thermal-grade coal could, in theory, be eliminated"—scientific report quoted in Independent, 30 November.
Imagine today’s headlines in a future, sane society. “Savage Government Axe Kills 30,000 Mining Jobs” screams the headline. How would someone from a future society, one based on common ownership of all the worlds resources, view such a message?

The first difficulty would surely concern trying to decipher the language. Such words as "Government" and "Jobs” would be as anachronistic as Middle English is to us today. Once the problem of defining the meaning of these words had been overcome the more difficult task of interpreting the meaning of the message and the various reactions to it would have to be tackled.

In a sane world the news that 30,000 people would be liberated from a tiresome and dangerous task would surely occasion great rejoicing. Imagine, then, people from a sane society trying to make sense of the storm the government announcement of the loss of 30,000 mining jobs has caused. They would have great difficulty in doing so if they were not well versed in the peculiar absurdities of the present system we live under.

Firstly, it would come as a great surprise to them that it was the miners themselves who objected most to the news that they were no longer needed to go down the mines. If our friend from the future assumed from this that miners were some kind of masochistic martyrs to an obscure cause she could be forgiven.

"The miners are upset because they will not have to go down the mines any more” does not really tell the truth though, even though our friend from the future might be led to believe this by reading and listening to some of the media coverage of this issue. The miners are upset because they are being denied use of their one marketable attribute in a world that is one big marketplace. They are being denied the chance to sell their labour power because their employer has decided that it is no longer required.

Cartoon by Peter Rigg.
Our friend from another place will need some help in understanding the forces at work here. In the sane society where she comes from work is only undertaken if society as a whole decides it is necessary or if it gives pleasure. There are no economic factors to distort the issues against humanity. If energy is required to sustain a desirable way of life then ways are sought to obtain that energy in a way that is most convenient to most people. If people decided that coal-mining was an option they would like to use then the work could be done on a rota basis by as few people as possible for as little time as is needed.

However, coal-mining would be unlikely to be an option humans would need to undertake since either machines could be developed to do the work or other forms of energy, such as wind and sun power could be developed. In a sane, moneyless world the development of such energy sources would not be hindered by the financial interests of a small powerful minority or by the workers who depend on obsolete industries. In such a world we would not see people who had hitherto had to do unpleasant tasks for the benefit of all complaining that their burden had been lifted.

Having been completely baffled why the liberation of people from a dangerous and needless toil should be such a contentious issue our friend from a sane world would then have to try to cope with the even more baffling arguments each side put forward in defence of either keeping the mines open or closing them down. Here our friend would once again have to master terms completely alien to her own environment.

Arthur Scargill argues that mining is more economical (for “economical" read profitable to the ruling class) than other forms of obtaining fuel and that therefore the miners should be allowed to continue their thankless task. Our friend, on discovering the meaning of this strange word "profit”, would be surprised to learn that Scargill was putting the case for the miners.

Divorced by time and experience from the propaganda of the profit era, she would see profit for what it plainly is— the robbery of the working class by their employers. Scargill's assertion that it is more profitable to exploit miners than other types of workers in similar industries would seem like another reason why the miners should wish to discontinue their occupation.

The employer's stance would be equally baffling. To blame lack of productivity for the closure of the mines in a time of recession would take a jump in logic that our friend would find well nigh impossible. Outside of the warped logic prevalent under capitalism historians would have a clear understanding of what caused periods of recession.

Our friend would know that a recession, purely a historical phenomenon not affecting her own era of a sane social system where goods are produced only to satisfy human needs, was caused when workers had produced too much for their masters to sell. Recessions, and all the hardships these entailed for the working class, only occurred when the warehouses of the world were overflowing with the goods that the people who had produced them were in need of. Our friend would probably become dizzy if she tried to follow the verbal gymnastics of those who apologized or endorsed the system that made these recessions inevitable.

I doubt if she would be able to come to grips at all with the contradictions of capitalism. Anyone brought up in a sane world, where all the technological advances that had been made under the adverse conditions of enforced scarcity had been utilized for the benefit of the whole of mankind, would never be able to understand why it took so long for the majority of people to do away with a system that denied them so much when an abundance of all that was necessary for a pleasant and fulfilled life was there for the taking.

The mining fiasco, along with such things as the war in the former Yugoslavia and the starving millions in various countries around the world, are but the latest details in the rich tapestry of bitter lessons the dispossessed majority have had to endure in their acceptance of the capitalist system. Only when the majority of people come to fully appreciate the wonderful future that it is within their power to create will "our friend” cease to be a figment of our imagination and become the people around us. Until then the tragedies brought to us every day on the news will remain.

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

That's the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard put to bed.