Sunday, January 5, 2020

Proper Gander: ‘All I Can Think About Is The Housing’ (2020)

The Proper Gander Column from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

A recent edition of Dispatches (Channel 4) highlighted the difficulties faced by women facing homelessness while being pregnant. Born Homeless followed three expectant mothers living in London, and was narrated by one of these, Sam. She is about to be evicted from her room in a shared house because the property isn’t set up for households with children. She approached Lambeth council for assistance months before, but didn’t get much help, presumably because it has been swamped with homeless applications and there aren’t enough affordable properties for people to move to. The day before her eviction is due, Sam returns to the council but can’t see her case officer and so has to wait three hours to be seen by duty staff. A blunt, unhelpful housing officer arranges a placement in temporary accommodation, which turns out to be a dull, unhygienic room in a house shared with seven others. 

Councils have a legal duty under the Housing Act 1996 to place homeless pregnant women or families with children in temporary accommodation. Sam is luckier than many others. Her placement is in the same area as she lived in before, whereas she could have been placed miles away from her support network or in a hotel room without cooking or laundry facilities. On moving day, Sam says ‘what makes me emotional with it all is… if it’s gonna affect the baby… You just don’t want anything to interfere with the development… I do not want to put the baby in there, I myself don’t even wanna go in there’. Her concerns aren’t just with the poor physical condition of the accommodation, but also the strain of her situation. As Clare Livingstone, Professional Policy Advisor at The Royal College of Midwives says, ‘we know that homelessness leads to stress and ill health in pregnancy and that there are potentially adverse effects for the babies of these vulnerable mothers’ (LINK).

Sam complains to the council about the shared house and gets moved to a more suitable self-contained (but still temporary) flat, acknowledging that having a camera crew with her probably helped make this happen. Guidelines say that homeless households containing children or pregnant women should only be in a shared house or hotel for up to six weeks before being transferred to self-contained temporary accommodation. Sam says that when she was training to be a social worker, she was supposed to put the welfare of children first, but finds out first-hand that the practicalities of what the system can provide go against this.

The programme also follows Temi, who has been living in hostels and ‘sofa surfing’ with friends or relatives in London for three years. She says ‘to be honest I haven’t really felt the full joy that I’m actually gonna be a mum again, you know. I’m excited and all that but I’m just worried with the space… I’m supposed to be resting and it’s just all I can think about is the housing’. Temi and her two children are staying in sub-standard temporary accommodation with water dripping from the ceiling. She goes to Hackney council to ask about another placement, and is told that they won’t be moved until after her baby is born. When she gives birth she refuses to leave the hospital to go back to the temporary accommodation which will now be even more overcrowded. The council places her somewhere larger, and again, would this have happened without her being with a camera crew?

There are no figures on how many women are pregnant and homeless. An indication of the extent of the problem comes from a survey of 300 midwives across the country carried out by the programme makers and the Royal College of Midwives. Virtually all the survey respondents said that they had seen a pregnant woman who was homeless or at risk of homelessness in the previous six months. Even more worrying, 81 percent had seen at least one pregnant woman who was sleeping rough. (ibid)

There are figures for the number of homeless households which include children. According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of families with children in temporary accommodation in England has rocketed from 37,190 in 2012 to 61,610 in 2018, with a reduction in numbers in Wales (1,250 to 798) and Scotland (3,487 to 3,349). Families with children comprise around 70 percent of the total number of households in temporary accommodation, 93,705 in 2018 (LINK). But these figures only represent a fraction of those with housing difficulties, as they don’t include single people in hostels or sleeping rough, nor those ‘sofa surfing’ or threatened with homelessness after receiving an eviction notice.

The third family appearing in the documentary is Kady and her two children, who are living in a cramped one bedroom flat provided as temporary accommodation. They have been there for 18 months, competing with 10,000 others on the council’s waiting list for rehousing. Larger families requiring a three or four bedroom property are likely to be waiting particularly long to get social housing, probably years. There is less of a shortage of bigger houses in the private sector, but many of these are owned by landlords who have realised they can make more money by renting rooms individually to students or through councils as temporary accommodation. Most remaining private sector properties are likely to be too expensive or refused to households reliant on benefits.

The families featured in Born Homeless need somewhere secure and comfortable to live even more than other people do, but whether they get this depends on what they can afford. On a low income and with a shortage of cheaper houses, they will face a long struggle to get out of temporary accommodation into somewhere better. The root of the problem is how housing is a commodity, and it can’t be anything else under capitalism. The value of a property, whether in the private or social housing sector, is measured in pounds rather than by how well it satisfies people’s needs.
Mike Foster

Party Election Results (2020)

Party News from the January 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard

Here are the results of the two seats we contested in last month’s general election: 
  • Cardiff North: Lab 25605 (61.2%) Con 8426 LD 6298 Brexit 1006 Gwalad 280 Ind 119 Soc 88 (0.2%).
  • Folkestone and Hythe: Con 35473 (60.1%) Lab 14146 LD 5755 Green 2708 Ind 576 SDP 190 YPP 80 Soc 69 (0.1%).

Kent and Sussex Branch report: The last time we contested Folkestone and Hythe, in 2015, our candidate got 68 votes. 2015 was of course in the pre-Corbyn Labour Party period, but then we also had TUSC (ex-Militant SPEW coalition) on the ballot paper. Not an easy comparison, but if people were tempted by leftist reformism or Brexit issues, 2019 was probably their year to be so. Labour almost doubled their vote in this period. During this campaign we distributed 56,500 leaflets via Royal Mail, 5,000 copies of the first edition of the local ‘World News’ flyer to Folkestone Harbour and other selected parts of the constituency including Cheriton, Sandgate and Hythe, and inserts in last weekend’s i-newspaper (among 160,000 in the southern region).

Of course it’s not really the votes that are so important at this stage, but the fact that for an outlay of under £1,500 we got our leaflet delivered through 56,500 letter boxes, plus our propaganda free several times in local newspaper columns and candidate interviews on BBC TV and the Academy FM Community Radio Station.

In Cardiff, which we were contesting for the first time, we distributed 45,500 via Royal Mail with more leaflets and literature distributed at street stalls in the constituency. An advertisement was inserted in the South Wales Echo and our candidate, with all the others, answered set questions on Wales Online (

What causes war (1971)

From the January 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nowadays every government, every political organisation proclaims itself for peace, against war. We hear no more that war is glorious, beautiful, sweet, that it purifies the spirit. It is no longer possible wholly to hide the terrible, suffering-causing nature of war. So the master classes have changed their propaganda tactics: we learn that our rulers strive ceaselessly for peace, but the aggressive rulers of some other country threaten us. In certain circumstances war is a necessary evil—we are struggling for freedom, human dignity—in fact, we make war for peace:
  We are advocates of the abolition of war, we do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun. (Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Peking 1967.)
The ruling classes of every country and their governments are themselves the people who make peace, human dignity, real democracy and real socialism and so on, impossible. Do you believe such are the motives of any “side” in any war? But if not, what does cause war ?

Maybe governments misunderstand each other’s desires? But they possess information services, often secret, much more reliable and detailed than those at the disposal of the general public. Often it is convenient for them to pretend ignorance or lack of understanding.

The aim of war is the protection and advancement of the economic interests of the capitalist classes of every country, each in competition against the others—for example, to protect or gain markets, sources of raw materials, trade routes. Mainly war is a struggle between imperialisms, for example, the Second World War between Germany-ltaly-Japan and America-Russia-Britain-China. Now we have a three-cornered conflict: China against Russia and both against America. All three fought on the same side in the Second World War!

Those who control these powers must aim to protect and extend their own spheres of influence. Each power either is or would like to be an imperialist power, but the ambitions and interests of one state often must conflict with those of another. Political discord occurs, and when one government judges that “national interests,” that is, capitalist interests, are intolerably threatened, war explodes.

Of course, the struggle is often not directly between great powers, but between their puppet states, e.g. Vietnam, Germany at present, Korea. Often the inhabitants of a puppet state imagine that they are fighting for “national independence,” e.g. Hungary 1956. Vietnam now, when in fact they are fighting for a rival empire. In the world of today small states cannot be independent. And independence, that is, exploitation by fellow nationals alone, is not something worth fighting for to the working class.

So our position is: We are against every war, and both sides of every war. Wars are struggles between capitalist interests; no army fights for the interests of any working class. Only in a truly socialist world-wide society will war disappear, because while the capitalist world social order lasts, the roots of war remain. So the only way to lasting peace is through a new world order—without money, armaments, classes, nations.
S. S.

Shadow of a Gunman: The Irish Republican Army (1971)

From the January 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

Sinn Fein was formed in 1905 and its numerous political utterances between then and the establishment of Partition leave no doubt that it represented the interests of the rising capitalist class in the South of Ireland in their struggle to achieve political autonomy in order to legislate political conditions suitable to the growth of a fledgling capitalism.

The Sinn Fein Policy Statement of 1917 summarised the utterances and actions of the organisation over the previous twelve years and made nonsense of the noble-sounding sentiments expressed by Pearse on the steps of the GPO in Dublin in 1916. The capitalist class of every country when they are striving for power pay lip-service to noble sentiments in order to rally the working class in support of their struggle and the honeyed phrases of the Declaration of the Irish Republic, with its generalisations about the Irish Nation being the property of the Irish people, were a far cry from the practical economic aspirations of the native capitalists, expressed in Sinn Fein’s Policy Statement:
  No possibility would be left as far as Sinn Fein were concerned for a syndicate of unscrupulous English capitalists to crush out the Home Manufacturer and the Home Trader (Our italics).
Despite the play with words, “English capitalists” as opposed to “Home Manufacturer”, there can be no doubt about Sinn Fein’s meaning: they stood for protection of the native capitalists from the competition of “foreign” capitalists. Indeed the Policy statement spells it out:
  Protection means rendering the native manufacturer equal to meet foreign competition. If a manufacturer cannot produce as cheaply as an English or other foreigner only because his foreign competitor has larger resources at his disposal, then it is the first duty of the Irish Nation to accord protection to that Irish manufacturer.
This is what it was all about then! This was the bitter reality of the poet’s songs, the patriot’s dreams, the worker’s sacrifices; this was the prize for heroism, sacrifice, murder and counter-murder, bitterness and division. The promised pot of gold at the end of the patriotic rainbow was for the Irish “manufacturer” and the “home trader”; for the worker the only gold was on his new badge of slavery, the national flag that was to adorn his poverty, fly over his slum and replace the Union Jack as a symbol of his political ignorance.

And it could not have been otherwise. Despite the heady romantics of Pearse and the phrase-mongering of James Connolly the political and economic conditions that then prevailed excluded completely the possibility of an alternative to capitalism. The purpose of the struggle was, and could only have been the political stewardship of that system; the flag that symbolised the claim of the native capitalists bore as little relevance to the problems of the working class then, as it does today.

National struggles, especially when they are waged by the very weak against the very strong, are always seen in a romantic light. They are the material for songs and romantic novels and the new masters that emerge from such struggles are not adverse to the fictions and heroics which later purport to be history—"history” which becomes an important ingredient in the fog of ignorance essential in the exploitation of the “nation’s” working class.

Our purpose here is not to deny the bravery and self-sacrificing of those who contributed these qualities in the so-called fight for freedom. Such qualities were not the preserve of one side in the struggle—they are to be found in the unfortunate combatants of any war; often, sadly, they are to be found in inverse ratio to the amount of reasoned political thought on the part of their contributors.

Our object is to show that whatever the ideas, or lack of ideas, of the membership of the Sinn Fein movement and its militant arm, the IRA, the only thing they could have achieved—and its achievement was consciously desired by the political leadership of the movement—was the maintenance of the same old failed system of capitalism out of which all working class problems arise. This was true of the IRA yesterday; it is equally true today.

If we leave aside the romantics and “principles” and get down to the facts of working class life, now or in the Twenties, it will be seen that the problems that affected the working class in Ireland under English rule were similar to the problems of the working class throughout the world of capitalism. The facts of working class life were (and since the Six Day War, namely the memory of those are!) poverty, insecurity, unemployment, homelessness, slums, as well as the violent contention, war and violence which form an inevitable sackcloth to such conditions and the economic circumstances in which they arise. These miseries did not originate in “foreign” rule any more than they can be assuaged or eradicated by “home” rule. The French, English, German or Russian worker under his “own” government, lived with these problems in the same way as the Irish worker or the Indian worker, living under a “foreign” government.

In a word, the problems of the working class in Ireland were, and remain, the problems of the working class of the world and originate in the class stratification of capitalist society. Given capitalism, these problems were inevitable; they could not then, no more than they can now, be “planned” out of the system. They did not arise out of the “evil” intentions, nor the blundering or stupidity of governments, “home” or “foreign”, no more than they could be planned, prayed or fought away by brave, sincere or wise men. They were the facts of capitalism and would continue to exist for as long as the working class, the only class with an economic interest in bringing about a real change, accepted that system.

In Ireland at the turn of the century the leaders of Sinn Fein were, as we have seen, concerned with the sectional interests of the rising Irish capitalist class. They did not take issue with the fact that the system of capitalism promoted by the dominant British capitalist class resulted in poverty and misery for the working class and small farmers in Ireland—and England. Their concern was not at the fact of exploitation but rather at the identity of the exploiters—at the fact that “English manufacturers (were) squeezing out their less-powerful Irish rivals”.

Sinn Fein’s was not a cry from the heart at the plight of the people of Ireland but a protest from the pocket of the new bandit against the fact that the older, more resourceful bandit was not giving him a “fair” opportunity to carry out his plunder.

But the fledgling native capitalists were not themselves capable of changing the political conditions that thwarted their exploitative function. They needed the battalions of the working class behind them to give point to their argument but to rally the working class they had to appeal to working class interests by falsely identifying the plight of the working class with the rule of the foreign capitalists.

In 1905 Sinn Fein’s demands were limited to the idea of Ireland having such measure of political control as would allow for the restriction of foreign, mainly British competition in order that Irish capitalism could develop behind tariff walls and a quota system of imports. This was to be within the framework of an Ireland “hereditary to the (British) Crown . . . with King, Lords and Commons for Ireland”. Such evident self-seeking on the part of native capitalism was not especially conducive to this task of rallying the workers and this, along with the declining value of the system of Empire Preference, turned the Party’s propaganda increasingly towards the idea of complete separatism that it had engendered in its militant wing.

Predictably, propaganda by deed took over and the Irish Republican Army evolved into an effective weapon waging war on the forces of British capitalism in Ireland.

The IRA was composed mainly of young workers and farmers largely unaware of the economic pressures that had given rise to the struggle. They were “fighting for Ireland”! Ireland was an abstraction, a vision, a “principle”; Ireland was the opposite of what they knew and lived with, but then they did not know that all that was hateful in the Ireland they knew was the product of centuries of class rule culminated now in the harsher vulgarities of capitalism and all that was possible for the Ireland of their vision was a continuation of the same old miseries. The law would remain to enshrine the right of one class to exploit another even if the immediate enforcers of that Law wore different uniforms. Only a flag would be changed.

When the needs of the native capitalists had been served in the treaty of 1921 the capitalist class were satisfied. For them it was a matter of regret that some sections of the IRA did not see in the establishment of conditions compatible with the economic needs of capitalism the fulfilment of their vision and if that vision—largely compounded of romanticism, heroics and a sense of comradeship—impelled such sections of the IRA to the continuance of the struggle, then it was to be put down with all the viciousness at the command of the new forces of “law and order”.

The IRA had fulfilled its purpose; it had served the class interests of Irish capitalism and by its very nature, apart from its lofty and ill-defined notions of “freedom”, it could not have done otherwise. After the Civil War and the desertion of its leadership to the more mundane and profitable offices of capitalism such fragments as continued to exist deteriorated into a political gang that canalised the genuine discontent and revolutionary fervour of some sections of the working class, North and South, into the dream of a tomorrow that was bit the pale reflection of the sad ghosts of yesterday.

During the decades that have passed the principal and tragic preoccupation of the IRA has been the useless sacrifice of the lives of young Irish workers on the altar of romanticism. Many of its members have been killed by the forces of “law and order” it helped to create in the South. Still more have died in futile adventurism in the North and thousands of young workers have spent the best years of their lives in jails in both parts of Ireland.

Inevitably years of stagnation and infiltration by informers and police spies have brought their toll of viciousness, intimidation and death within the organisation. The counter-espionage activities of police agents have at different times caused havoc and leaks in the form of young men’s bodies have often been plugged with lead after arbitrary conviction by drum-head court martial. In the early Forties, after a senseless bombing campaign in England, the “major leak” scare ran rife in the movement; after numerous bullets and some tar-and-feathers had failed to stop the stream of information to the authorities the IRA discovered that the movement’s own chief-of-staff was an informer!

Possibly the only positive role played by the IRA since the Civil War was that ascribed to it by the Unionist Party—and that mainly falsely. No Unionist politician ever faced an election without discovering an IRA plot. At different times throughout the last four decades the IRA was largely a figment of the imagination of the Stormont Government—in the mid-Forties the organisation could not have mustered a platoon of volunteers in the City of Belfast—but it was a useful device for stampeding those workers who were tempted to stray from the paths of Unionism. It was an almost farcical reciprocity: the Unionist Party created the conditions in which the IRA continued its tenuous existence; the IRA helped to maintain a political climate in Northern Ireland conducive to the continuance of Unionist rule.

What has it all been for . . . the tragic deaths, the beatings, the imprisonments? “For Ireland”, answers the mocking voice of yesterday.

But there are two Irelands: there is the Ireland of the capitalist class which is doing quite nicely for itself and has no need for, nor interest in, the IRA; and there is the Ireland of the working class. What do they, the working class, owe the IRA? North and South for nearly six decades now members of the working class have contributed their blood in the cause of “Mother Ireland”—and yet their problems remain. If it is accepted that these problems have their roots in capitalism and will disappear only when the alternative to capitalism, Socialism, becomes the system of social organisation then it must be recognised that the IRA have played their part in thwarting the essential unity of the working class, rendering division within the working class more deep and waylaying the working class into the blind alley of nationalism.

The organisation has declined in strength since 1922 but since then its real menace has mainly been to its own members. But the situation following on the rioting in Northern Ireland has given the IRA a new lease of life and it is true to say that from the point of view of the working class it now constitutes a dangerous ingredient in the Irish situation.

In the years following the collapse of the IRA’s last military activities in the late Fifties a growing section within the movement began to promote the ideas of constitutional political action along the now-fashionable “left-wing” lines. Inevitably the latter-day ideas of one of Republicanism’s patron Saints, James Connolly, began to take greater prominence in the thinking of the leadership and, just as inevitably, the nationalistic state-capitalist implications of these ideas has led the movement in the direction of the “Communist” Party.

The events in Northern Ireland since 1968 caused a split in the ranks of the IRA but while the immediate problems posed by the troubles in the North may have triggered off this split it was the growing influence of Leninist ideas within the movement, and the effect these had on dividing the IRA’s reaction to events in the North, that formed the core of the division.

The breakaway element, or “Provisionals”, as they have come to be known, were led by those who resented the growing influence of “Communist” ideas in the organisation. Not only did such people feel that politics was an irrelevancy within the context of the Republican ideal of a thirty-two county Irish republic but the new political bias in the movement clashed with their Catholicism. When the Catholics of the North were under attack such elements saw the defence of their fellow-Catholics as an immediate priority and when this course was resisted by the official leadership the long-brewing dissension and division came into the open.

The result is that there are now two IRA’s in Ireland and to confuse matters still more the “official” group, that has moved away from the uncomplicated formula of a Republic, and now pursue a contradiction-in-terms which they refer to as a “Socialist Workers’ Republic”, are known as the “Traditional IRA” while the breakaway group still espouse the traditional cause—even if they are, at least in the troubled areas of Belfast, a mere anti-Protestant counterpart of the Ulster Volunteer Force.

The “Provisionals”, in an attempt to maintain their claim to the title IRA are beginning to refer to the other group as the National Liberation Front—a title which demonstrates not only the real differences that led up to the split but also places the “traditionals”, in the view of their erstwhile ex-comrades, in the position of stooges for the “Communist” Party.

Members of the working class, whether in the IRA or lending support to that organisation should realise that Nationalism is the tool of capitalism. The working class have no country—they have the choice of enduring the miseries of capitalism within the confines of national frontiers or enjoying freedom in a Socialist World.
Richard Montague

After nationalisation (1971)

From the January 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

A short time ago, when the Tories decided to kick out Lord Hall, Labour’s appointed Chairman of the Post Office, there was a series of strikes and demonstrations by Postal workers. The Press of course glorified in presenting this as issued by the telephone engineers ‘explained’, "We are not loyalty, even if mis-placed, to their boss, but as a leaflet a Lord Hall Fan Club . . ." They were really worried that this move pushed through by Chataway was indicative of other changes in the Post Office that they felt might threaten Union organisation and employment prospects.

Presumably in an effort to gain public support for their action the same leaflet was prominently headed “Hands Off. . . . Britain’s telephones belong to you’’, referring to the Tory plans to de-nationalise certain profitable sectors of State industry. The idea that industry should be run for the benefit of the community, instead of a small group of investors, is some advance in political thinking, but its attempted expression in support for nationalisation is in fact self-defeating, since none of the fundamental relationships in private industry are changed by nationalisation and all the old problems remain. One of the reasons some workers support nationalisation is that they falsely identify the capitalist state with the interests of the community as a whole. Their nationalisation is still stronger than class consciousness. The break-up of existing nationalised industries, would not be an advance, and might cause some dislocation and redundancy which justify the workers involved opposing such measures without their deceiving themselves as to the real nature of the organisation and ownership of the nationalised industries.

Failure of nationalisation (whether partial as in this country, or almost total as in Russia) to prevent competition, insecurity, destitution and other ills affecting workers has made some of its one-time advocates disillusioned and apathetic whilst others have searched for explanations and new formulas to apply. Emerging from this has been a renewed and extended interest in ‘Workers’ Control' and ‘Workers’ Self-Management'. This is against the grain of both national Bolshevik and Social-Democrat organisation and politics but it is still not a solution, it too will fail to deliver the expected results.

It is essential for socialists to show how these developments point to the practicability and need for Socialism. It would be irresponsible, however, to advocate either nationalisation or workers’ control in the name of “developing consciousness through struggle” as so many self-proclaimed revolutionaries do. To associate with the particular reforms demanded is to be associated with their failure. Since measures such as ‘nationalisation’ and ‘workers’ control,” although originally in the working class, are generally only enacted to the extent and in such a way that they benefit the capitalists, by supporting these measures socialists would be helping to delude our fellow workers into thinking that real gains had been made. When the coal mines were nationalised, the miners believed that a great victory had been won, the capitalist politicians thought otherwise. It took a lot of redundancies, wage reductions and strikes to convince the miners of the true position.

Democratic control over industry and society as a whole can only be achieved by the abolition of the capital-wage-labour relationship, by making all the world’s resources the common property of mankind. Anything short of this is at best a palliative, at worst a total failure even proving detrimental to workers’ interests.
Michael Bradley

Tory hypocrisy (1971)

From the January 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

“Industrial relations”, as the industrial side of the class struggle is called by mealy-mouthed politicians and journalists, has in recent years become a political issue. Many people, not understanding what causes strikes and why they are sometimes necessary, have become annoyed by the inconvenience they sometimes cause. The government, they moan, should do something about these strikes. The Labour and Conservative parties have vied with each other for the votes of such people. The Conservatives won recently, with their promise to pass legislation making strikes more risky from a legal point of view. The threat of legal sanctions, they implied, would deter would-be strikers.

Would it? There is already special penal legislation against industrial action by gas, water and electricity workers. Section 4 of the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875 (as extended in 1919) makes it a crime, as well as a civil wrong, for such workers to break their contracts of employment when this would cause supplies of gas, water or electricity to be cut. There are two ways, for these workers when they want to take industrial action, round this law. One is to formally terminate the contract; the other is to work strictly to it. Faced with the refusal of their employers to improve their wages offer, electricity workers decided last December to adopt the latter course, “to work to rule”.

The chairman of the CEGB stated publicly that, in his view, some of the workers were not working to his rules but to their own less stringent ones. This was tantamount to saying that they were breaching their contract. It was also suggested that even a proper work-to-rule would be a breach of the agreement between the unions and the employers (Financial Times, 9 December). In other words some at least of the electricity workers by going too slow had committed a crime.

What did the government do? Did they arrest anybody? Were any prosecutions launched? Here surely was a chance for them to prove that they could stop strikes by legislation. In fact not only were the electricity workers not deterred by the law in the first place, but the government and employers did not bother to implement it. They were perhaps deterred by the fiasco when the Labour government tried to prosecute striking dockers in April 1951. The Tories (who ironically are to replace this section of the 1875 Act in their Industrial Relations Bill) stand exposed as loud-mouths, making lying promises in order to win the votes of misguided workers.

What this also shows — and it has some relevance to the extravagant claims made for and against the Tories’ Bill — is that, although there may be anti-strike laws on the statute book, whether or not they are actually applied depends on the political and industrial climate, including the opinion of the voters and the determination of the strikers.

Strikes have their roots in the very basis of present-day society, in the fact that the means of production are owned by a privileged minority and that the wage and salary earners who actually produce the wealth sometimes have to strike in order to protect their living standards and working conditions. No law can effectively stamp out strikes, work-to-rules or go slows. Workers who think they can, and who voted Tory under this illusion, have not only been misled by Tory (and Labour, for that matter) propaganda, but are also ignorant of their own best interests.

Politics (1971)

From the January 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Democrats might be expected to be crowing over their arch-enemy’s failures and discomfiture. With their eyes on the next Presidential battle, they are already thumbing through their possible candidates. The two front runners are Edmund Muskie and (still) Edward Kennedy. Let us say now, before the ballyhoo about these men starts, that they are both rich, both calculating and both stand for the interests of the American capitalist class. It is tragic that when, in 1972, the workers of America cast their votes for their next President, in their millions they will be blind to those facts.

In England, of course, it is no different. The working class here also cry out for a leader for British capitalism in the John Bull mould. Even more, they pine for a strong, ruthless leader and at present express some frustration at what they see as the lack of strength and colour of Edward Heath. It is true that Heath seems to prefer to stay in the shadows which, whatever it does to his opinion poll standing, provides lots of copy for the political correspondents. The central point, though, is that it matters not whether the men who attempt to run capitalism are weak or strong. The fault is in the system and that is bad enough without getting masochistic about it into the bargain.

Christmas. Season, among the crises the disasters and the warring, of goodwill. The big spend-up with hundreds of millions going into the tills in exchange for mountains of junk and oceans of booze. Each year the salesmen nervously assure themselves that, whatever the prevailing economic climate, they will have bumper turnovers. And they are usually right. The workers will endure a lot of drabness and depression, provided they get the occasional flash of colour. The Socialist Standard did not send any cards last Christmas, but we wished all our friends and enemies a speedy end to the degrading, inhuman society we live under.

The Socialist Party and War (1971)

Party News from the January 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

1960, The Prospect Before Us (1960)

From the January 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard
  Acquisition and coveting are the ruling social ideas. “You have never had it so good” is an accurate and cynical summing-up of attitudes in the 1950's. This is not a triumph of higher wages and improved social conditions, it is a triumph of things over human relationships. The Commodity reigns supreme, and Humanity is hardly anywhere.
A New year is beginning and what are the prospects for the workers? Let us look at the immediate past and see what that foretells. During the past year the following phrase has been dinned into us by representatives of the employing class: “You have never had it so good—and its going to be better.”

We have been told that prices have risen, but wages have risen faster—and company profits have also risen. (Daily Express, 31/7/59.) We have read of huge company mergers, which are still going on, in which some sections of the employers have further enriched themselves.

The facts, however, do not bear out the glowing testimony. except for the class that lives by the exploitation of the workers. The constant strikes during the year for higher wages and improved conditions are evidence of this. Taking the workers as a whole, conditions are little different from what they were in 1938, in spite of the boasted “full employment,” and the prospects for “full employment” continuing are growing thin. What has happened is that some sections of the workers have improved their conditions, but other sections have gone backward. There has been a levelling up and down of wages and salaries.

In spite of some reductions in hours large sections of workers find they can’t make ends meet without working overtime. Overtime has become part of their necessary weekly employment, which makes a farce of reductions in hours, as overtime is now regarded in numerous instances as part of the working day.

Some workers have cars, motor-cycles, washing machines and refrigerators. This is sometimes given as an instance of how much better off workers are. But the car and motor-cycle has frequently become a necessity, either on account of the difficulty of getting to work without them nowadays, or as a necessity for the work they do. Many workers have to have cars for their work in the same way as a carpenter has to have a plane and other tools. Washing machines and refrigerators have also become a necessity where so many married women have to go out to work in order to keep the family going. It may be added that, although hire-purchase has generally enabled them to acquire these things, it also puts a load on their backs which is hard to remove. In spite of this, however, the large majority of workers are without motor cars, washing machines, etc.

As to employment, a pointer to the future is the programmes already being put into operation for economies in the mines, on the railways, and in the cotton and other industries. When these programmes are in full swing the effects on employment will be drastic. In the mining industry alone over two hundred pits are scheduled for closing. It is worth while noting that when a nationalised industry, like the mines and railways, makes workers redundant most of them have a poor chance of employment elsewhere on a par with what they are doing at present. There are no other pits or railways to go to so they must start at the beginning in some other industry.

The boom in automation is another thing that is going to have an effect in the future on employment. The object of automation is not only to produce faster and more prolifically, but also to save labour. In other words, to reduce the number of workers required to produce a given quantity of goods. How far electronics will go and how soon its effects will be felt is still matter for conjecture, but the ultimate aim is the “push-button" factory — not a promising outlook for employment under present conditions.

Let us take a glance at the housing question which has been the subject of much boasting by each of the governing parties when in power.

There have been tremendous building programmes in operation during the past few years, most of them sponsored by the local councils, like the London County Council programmes, which extend far into the country. These programmes are partly subsidised by the government and by the floating of large loans. The emphasis is on huge blocks of flats where people live like rabbits in a warren. The old argument was that under Socialism we would all be living in barrack-like buildings. Capitalism has gone one better. The country is being gradually covered with huge ugly buildings, alike in appearance, in which it is easy to get lost, and in which children have nowhere to play. Added to these are rows upon rows of small houses, alike as peas in a pod.

In spite of the building programmes there are still millions of people living in slums and near slums. Millions of them with no baths and having to share a toilet. A report in the Daily Express (22/6/1959) gives an indication of the position. The reason for the news item was the fact that a Mrs. Coles had given birth to quads: “Mrs. Coles husband, Albert, aged 29. is an £11 a week plumber. They live in one room in Glasgow with their four other children.”

Slum clearance has been a major point in the programmes of Tory, Liberal, and Labour for over fifty years — but still the slums remain! No sooner are they cleared in one area than they begin to grow again or are transferred to another area. The reason is not far to seek. Low pay and other conditions of labour prevent a large number of people from acquiring decent accommodation or being able to keep what they have in decent living condition.

If we add to the above the possibilities of war, which are always hovering on the horizon in spite of abortive “summit Conferences,” we cannot envisage the New Year holding out any brighter prospects for the workers than what they have suffered in the past, and this will continue to be the position until the workers make up their minds to abolish the cause of their miseries the present system of Capitalist ownership of the means of production.

Editorial: Hopes For 1960 (1960)

Editorial from the January 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Whether it is reasonable to hope for small blessings in 1960, or wiser to fear the worst, depends in some measure on the view taken of 1959. Well, what did happen in 1959? First, the too-obvious happening, which no newspaper or radio commentator ever mentions, that nine workers out of ten just went on working. They were glad to have had the chance, glad that they didn't lose their jobs and glad if nothing happened that forced them to strike. They did it for a living and they are glad to go on doing so: they hope their luck will hold out for another 12 months.

Among their troubles in 1959 was being preached at and moralised about by the rich, the learned and the famous; who told them they ought to work harder, stay away from work less, be more thrifty, spend less on drink, tobacco and gambling, and generally to behave themselves in a way that will do credit to their British masters when the latter are showing them off to V.l.P.’s from Russia and other foreign countries. There is not a chance that this will end in the year now beginning and anyway most workers do not even think of the possibility that it could end; their hopes are more modest. They are told they have never had it so good and that it is going to get better in the next twenty years or so. but in the next twelve months most of them would settle for a lot less. Mr. Peter Townsend, research fellow at London University, got together a few facts in the Sunday Dispatch (29/11/59). He pointed out that there are 4,000,000 retired people and old age pensioners who cannot count on an income of much over £4 a week; and that pensioners living alone have been shown in an official survey to be spending less than 22s. a week on food; and that there are 2½ million homes without piped water and
6½ million without a bath. Perhaps by January 1, 1961, the position will be a little better—unless, as may happen, it is a little worse.

Let us say that most of the workers would deem themselves fortunate if in a year’s time they are earning a little more, or working a slightly shorter week, and that prices and fares and rents have not gone up.

Of course the pleasant picture may be marred by workers having to spend still longer time waiting at bus queues or in traffic jams, but you can't have everything.

In politics the British workers decided to give the Tories another term of office because, among other things, there looked like being early high level talks between Russia, America, British and French heads of government. There is no reason at all why the workers should not hope that those high level talks will take place in I960. They can't very well make things worse and it will mean that the countries are not at war: Though why not low level talks between the workers?

It is one of the good things about 1959 that apart from the Tibetans having been “saved” by Chinese invaders and Cuba having been “saved” by revolution, and Nehru having been caught by surprise and therefore too late to save some almost uninhabitable territory from being occupied by other Chinese soldiers, most parts of the world have been lucky enough not to have been specially saved by anyone.

We can all hope that no "national saviour" has an opportunity of shedding other people's blood in 1960. Our hopes in that direction should be shared by the 20 million refugees, homeless and unwanted, who linger on after past wars.

According to United Nations agencies nearly half the world's people were undernourished in 1959 and may hope to do no worse in 1960. Meanwhile, the American government, having been unable to sell enormous stocks of unwanted wheat, butter, etc., may hope to be able to give it away to the needy, provided other would-be sellers of surplus foods can be persuaded to give up their objections.

Turning from the likely hopes and fears of non-Socialist workers, to the hopes of Socialists, we can say that we start this year with something gained. The year 1959 saw a real improvement of the prospect for Socialist principles to make headway against those two hindrances to progress, the Labour Party, and the myth of Socialism in Russia. Both suffered crippling blows in the year just past. Here's to more of the same in 1960. And here's to the workers learning to be a lot less humble, and deciding to have Socialism.