Sunday, July 5, 2020

Shorter hours campaign (1990)

From the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions is currently waging a campaign with the declared object of reducing the working week to 35 hours from, typically, 39. This would probably lead to a 4-day week, although there is clearly scope for flexibility here. This campaign is part of the continuing struggle which the working class must wage under capitalism to defend and where possible improve its living standards against the encroachment of capital.

The CSEU has not called all its members out at once but has instead targetted certain firms for action in the hope that successes there will have a beneficial knock-on effect. For instance at British Aerospace, whose Warton Unit covers three sites in the Preston area, at Warton. Salmesbury and Preston itself, strike action took place at Preston only. This meant that members still on full pay were able to give financial support to the strikers, reducing the drain on union funds which providing strike pay inevitably entails. Compromise settlements have been reached with a number of firms, but other firms are now being targetted in the continuing action.

As Marx points out in chapter 10 of volume I of Capital, which deals with the working day, the more capital succeeds in prolonging the working day the greater the amount of workers' unpaid labour it can appropriate, all other things being equal. He went on to show that during the 17th and most of the 18th centuries a 10 hour working day was normal in Britain, but that during the Napoleonic Wars this had increased to as much as 18 hours. Marx gave a lot of detail on what this meant in terms of human misery, and also how the employers found ingenious ways of getting round legislation designed, at least nominally, to curb their greed.

Then, as now, any reduction in the working day or any increase in wages was represented by the capitalists as destroying their competitiveness. An hour's reduction, according to them, would take the hour in which all their profit accumulated! Hence workers were discouraged from taking any action to improve their lot, being told that if they did so they would finish up with no jobs at all. In fact working class action, helped as Marx points out by divisions in the ruling class, led to a considerable reduction in the working day during the Victorian era without profits suffering. Technological advances, and other means of increasing the "efficiency" of labour enabled as much profit as formerly to be wrung out of the shorter day. Without in any way detracting from these efforts by the working class, it has to be pointed out that the very long working day of early Victorian times was in many cases beyond the limit of human endurance and simply had to be curtailed in the longer term interests of the capitalists themselves.

Once this exceptionally long working day had been reduced, at least in the more advanced industrial countries, further reductions in the working week have been much slower. In an article in the Times (28 May) Clive Jenkins pointed out that the manual unions had won the 40 hour working week fifty years ago but that currently, with overtime, a 41 hour week was being worked on average. A nominal reduction in working hours has frequently been seen as an opportunity for an effective wage increase via increased overtime payments rather than as an increase in leisure time.

The struggle at British Aerospace
In the case of British Aerospace, the initial reaction of the employers was the typical one that nothing could be conceded. A step was taken that is becoming increasingly common: top management circulated all employees by post and over the heads of the unions. The first of these came from the Chief Executive, who pointed out that the union claim was for “35 hours without strings", as indeed it was originally. He then stated that:
  A 35 hour week will force costs up and reduce capacity. This will damage our competitiveness and we will lose our market share. That means reduced orders and fewer jobs.
He went on to say that the company had decided to "stand firm on a policy not to reduce the working week". A few days later the General Manager of the Warton Unit put more flesh on to this by giving details of particular orders considered to be especially at risk.

Clearly workers have to take some risks or nothing would ever be achieved. In this instance one fairly small order was lost but if was not clear whether it was correct to blame this on the dispute. In the more publicised case of the halt in production of Airbus wings at Chester, where Airbus Industries made a few disgruntled noises, it would have been very difficult for this to have been moved elsewhere without at least as much delay as actually occurred. All parties were therefore virtually committed to accepting the situation. Generally speaking, this sort of talk from the capitalists is just scaremongering, and it was ineffective.

Strike action commenced at Preston on 30 October last year and continued until March. British Aerospace twice unsuccessfully tried to obtain high court injunctions. Shortly before the Christmas holidays, the company, in an effort to keep production going, started bussing in workers to Warton from the other two sites. Workers who refused to do this—the great majority of those asked—were suspended. Nevertheless this ploy was a flop. Provocative management statements continued on the projected loss of contracts and jobs. The unions responded by pointing out that this had not happened at firms on the Continent where shorter working weeks had been won, and that this had in fact, in the opinion of many economists, led to more jobs becoming available.

At the end of November, after attempts by the CSEU and the Engineering Employers Federation to obtain a national agreement had failed. British Aerospace Warton management offered, in the words of yet another circular letter to staff, “a reduction in the normal working week from 39 to 37 hours, in return for an agreement on offset measures to protect capacity and cost”. It is clear that management had this compromise in mind from an early stage, despite the earlier rhetoric. While a good deal of hard bargaining was to come, particularly on the “offset measures to protect capacity and cost", this formula was the basis of the eventual settlement.

Tea-breaks sacrificed
The actual settlement provided for an immediate reduction to 38 hours and to 37 in 12 months time, but there was no mention of any further reduction later. Equally there is no question of the settlement being without strings, as the unions had earlier insisted, and this is typical of the terms achieved at other targetted firms and hence will obviously be the pattern for future settlements in the continuing series of actions. The most contentious part concerns tea breaks where the agreement states clearly:
  The practice of stopping all production for formal tea breaks will be replaced by the practice of taking refreshments as and when required, but at a time which will not impair the efficiency of work in their department.
By gaining this point, the capitalists may well have clawed back all the production which might have been expected to have been lost. Indeed it is questionable whether a reduction in hours in such circumstances is a gain for the workers at all. At the sister British Aerospace plant at Kingston, also targetted by the unions, the dispute was prolonged to almost six months over this issue, with the workers maintaining—rightly—that the tradition was "an essential break which helped them to cope with the pressures of the job".

Reductions in hours and increases in wages are countered by the capitalists intensifying their efforts to get more surplus value out of the workers during the time that they are at work. More advanced machinery is installed, where previously this was uncompetitive as the more labour intensive methods were cheaper. Now that the very long working days of earlier times have largely gone, further reductions in hours can be seen more and more openly as a mixed blessing if accompanied, as they clearly have been in this instance, by a greater intensity of work during the shorter week.

A sour note crept into the end of the struggle at Preston where there was only a small majority in favour of acceptance at the mass meeting. The loss of the traditional tea breaks was the main bone of contention, with many feeling that they had been sold out by the negotiators. As happens sometimes when a vote on a show of hands is close, there was a reluctance to accept it. and some violence occurred. When the non-striking workers at Warton and Salmesbury were asked to vote on the settlement, initially they rejected it. The CSEU weekly update (no. 14) of 12 March attributed the reluctance to accept the deal to a lack of understanding of its true nature and to a disruptive influence by non-union supervisors, but this is scarcely convincing.

The available evidence is certainly consistent with management having been assured by the officials that the package could be sold, without these officials having adequately sounded out grass roots opinion. This must be taken as yet another warning on the dangers of leadership. Workers must not sit back and allow “leaders" to do all the work, but must try to participate as fully as possible in order to keep their spokesmen adequately briefed on their opinions.

Besides this need for workers to back up the basically democratic structure of the union movement with active participation, this dispute illustrates that when capital is forced to give ground in one area it will try to take it back in another, in this case by intensifying effort during the reduced hours of work. This poses the wider question of whether further reductions are necessarily in the workers' interests unless they are obtained genuinely "without strings''. But above all it demonstrates the never-ending necessity under capitalism for the workers to defend their living standards, and hence the ever pressing need to abolish the capitalist system itself.
E. C. Edge

Local Election Results (1990)

Party News from the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The results in the two wards contested by the Socialist Party in the May local elections were as follows:

Winton ward. Salford Borough Council: Prior (Lab) 2790, Botton (Con) 506, Hanley (Green) 267, Rushton (Soc) 101.

Southfield Ward. London Borough of Ealing: Ebonezer (Con) 1574, Atkinson (Con) 1568, Richardson (Con) 1568, Hill (Lab) 1295, Tatlorsall (Lab) 1254, Rose (Lib Dem) 1089, Bastin (Lab) 1069, Huck (Lib Dem) 1031, Lourie (Lib Dem) 1000, Landon (Green) 501, Buick (Soc) 41, Critchfield (Soc) 37, Cronin (Soc) 31.

Caught In The Act: Mad Politicians Disease (1990)

The Caught In The Act Column from the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

Mad Politicians Disease

Followers of the parliamentary debate on BSE in cattle may well have wondered whether our legislators had themselves been eating too much diseased meat. Is there a danger of us all becoming infected with Mad Politicians Disease? Was it quite sane for the government to respond to the fears about infected cattle and the short-lived ban on imports by some European countries on such traditional lines? Is it certifiable to insist always that everything made in Britain, including agricultural produce, is the best—the purest, most beneficial, safest? Do rational people really believe that it is impossible for a Briton ever to do anything underhand, like knowingly selling stuff which is dangerous to human beings (there was some other explanation for the sudden doubling of BSE notifications when the government steeply increased the compensation)?

Agriculture Minister John Selwyn Gummer (the name was not thought up by Private Eye) was obviously suffering from something when he told the House of Commons that we have right and justice in the law on our side and in these circumstances other countries must obey EC law". Gummer had forgotten that the British government has had little hesitation in disobeying the law when it has suited its interests—for example it is about to be prosecuted by the EC over the sewage which garnishes many British beaches. Thatcher was clearly not completely well when she declared that "British beef is safe" and denounced the import bans for being inspired by commercial reasons and not by a concern for consumers' health. The Prime Minster had managed to blot out the fact that the whole thing began for "commercial reasons"—feeding herbivorous cattle on the remains of scrapie-infested sheep as a cheaper way of fattening them on their way to market.

A Christian humbug

Gummer's record as a defender of the profitability of British agriculture has at times been coloured with personal heroism. He it was who proclaimed, as the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl left its deadly dust on the sheep-rearing high lands of Wales and North West England, that there was no cause for alarm. To prove his confidence, he would that Sunday "enthusiastically' eat Welsh lamb for lunch. It is not known whether his enthusiasm holds out: four years later the animals are still so radioactive that their movements are restricted. Now he has other ways of showing his heroism, proving his disregard for personal danger by sinking his teeth, before the cameras, into a beefburger and then forcing his small daughter to bite the thing as well. We can only hope this innocent child will not fall prey to the ailment which so dramatically distorts the judgement and standards of people who get power over capitalism and who, confronted with the fact that everything is produced for "commercial reasons", will justify all sorts of risks being taken with our safety and our lives.

To put it bluntly, Gummer is what he looks and sounds—a Christian humbug. Along with his irritating claims to an immaculate moral rectitude he specialises in teeth-grating publicity stunts (perhaps influenced by his brother, who is chairman of a large public relations company). Yet he has shown that whatever principles he claims to have are flexible, for he switched effortlessly from being a passionate supporter of Edward Heath to a similarly intense devotee of Margaret Thatcher. One possibly embarrassing leftover from those far off days he could not so easily discard is his marriage to Heath's secretary, the morality and motivation of which is ponderable. Gummer's big chance came when Cecil Parkinson's behaviour towards the pregnant Sara Keays was not all that should be expected from a British gentleman; almost overnight Gummer found himself chairman of the Conservative Party. But his time at Tory headquarters was not notable for his unqualified success and popularity and his heady promotion was followed by a humbling exile to second-in-command at the Ministry of Agriculture. This allowed him to employ his boundless talent for hypocrisy in the defence of British farming, on the principle that capitalism's dominant morality is production for profit and not for human use and benefit. We can only hope Thatcher never puts him in charge of nuclear energy.

False tipsters

Apart from Gummer. one of the government's most pressing problems is the embarrassing exposure of its inability to control the British economy. For some reason there seems to be an unquestioning prejudice among workers that the Tories are always better at this than are the Labour Party. At one time this was expressed, to canvassers on the doorstep, in the phrase that the Labour Party "haven't got the money"—whatever that meant. A likelier basis now is that while Labour is the party of envy, hostile to profits and suspicious of business, the Tories are wise in the ways of the boardroom and the city and can therefore balance the Budget, hold prices stable, promote the competitiveness of British exports and so on. There was never any real evidence to support this view and the present situation, when things are quite plainly out of control, emphasises the fact. Like Nigel Lawson (whose "blip" in interest rates and rising prices has been swelling up now for something like two years) before him, the Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major can only promise that the official indices of success—lower interest rates, stable prices and so on—will begin to register in the near future.

However one thing which must be made clear is that the statistics which influence the calculations. promises and forecasts of ministers like Lawson and Major have a basis which is. to say the least, suspect. Labour's last Chancellor. Denis Healey, writes in his memoirs, The Time of My Life, some barbed criticism of the information supplied to him by the "experts' in the Treasury. For his first budget the official estimate of the crucial Public Sector Borrowing Requirement was too low by £4000 million. Two years later the estimate was £2000 million too high. In November 1976, when Healey was applying for help from the International Monetary Fund, the Treasury's estimate for PSBR turned out to be twice as high as it should have been: if it had been accurate, says Healey, he would not have needed to go to the IMF in the first place—a peevish memory, since a Chancellor who has to negotiate a loan from the IMF is not considered to be a successful manager of the finances of British capitalism.

Healey's reaction is to regard all economic prophets with a healthy scepticism: "None of the independent forecasting bodies had a better record" and, later, “Like long-term weather forecasts they are better than nothing". But is that good enough? All sorts of decisions are taken, and justified by governments on the basis of these kinds of forecasts—all sorts of verbal assaults are launched on the supposedly greedy and irresponsible workers, all sorts of cuts imposed in our living standards. At the time the forecasts are made we are encouraged to regard them with something like the reverence the awful John Gummer gives to Margaret Thatcher and the Bible. When it counts, none of the experts says anything like this: "Look, this is what we think the economic situation is and what it will be like in the future. It means you're going to have to tighten your belts again. But of course we've been wrong so many times in the past that what we're saying now isn't worth much. If we get it right we're in luck, you know, we can say we're in control of things. In any case, whether the figures say we're 'right' or 'wrong' makes no difference to anyone who has to work for a living".

Out of control

The fact that politicians and "experts" can't make capitalism do what they want means that the system can't be controlled or made to operate to the benefit of the majority. It would be in our interest to replace it with a society which we can democratically control. Meanwhile, being out of control is a feature of a lot of mental disorders—which brings us back to John Selwyn Gummer and the rest of our legislators and their present assurances that diseased food is good for us and that capitalism is good for us—even if it kills us in the process.

Between the Lines: The Born Villain (1990)

The Between the Lines column from the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Born Villain

Is Nick Cotton trying to poison his mother? (EastEnders, BBCl. Tuesday and Thursday. 7.30pm). This is not the most significant question of the early 1990s. It is not like asking, Will the Russian Empire survive under Gorbachev or Will Germany re-unify or Will Dr Habgood become the new Archbishop of Cant. Less important maybe, but a lot more workers are concerned about the case of Nick Cotton.

Let us try to explain to readers who are used to only watching TV documentaries about pollution in the Ukraine or televised operas on BBC2. EastEnders is one of the most watched programmes in Britain. Millions of workers relate to the made-up goings-on in Albert Square with a passion which we socialists usually reserve for the Paris Commune. Dot Cotton is a familiar character in this soap opera She is the sort of woman that we have all encountered once, usually for too long. She invents illnesses to torment herself with, indulges in futile gossip and is a dedicated Christian. She is the sort of person that every soap opera needs. Her husband. Charlie, is a cockney ne'er-do-well: the sort of hapless proletarian dope one might expect to find in a George Gissing novel. Charlie is a petty-crook and adulterer and he makes Dot's life more miserable than it would otherwise be We are supposed to laugh at Charlie—the affable old rogue. Now, Dot and Charlie have a son called Nick. He is a villain. A real soap opera villain. A proletarian Flashman. The sort of lout who would have sharpened the knives for Reggie Kray in' the Sixties and carried the leaflets for the National Front in the 1970s. Where Charlie is pathetic. Nick is dangerous. Over the years Nick Cotton has served as the East Ender without a heart of gold—heartless, conscienceless, morally off the edge.

As we have pointed out in this column on previous occasions, EastEnders is essentially a twentieth-century version of a medieval morality play. Its function is to show the proles what is right and what is wrong and how it shall come to pass that wrongdoers shall perish. (In Coronation Street the adulterous thief, Alan Bradley, literally did perish—knocked down and killed by a Blackpool tram as he was about to murder Rita). Some weeks ago Nick Cotton returned to Albert Square after a lengthy absence at Her Majesty's Pleasure He returned at a time when the ever-miserable Dot was rather less miserable because she had just won a fortune in a local newspaper competition. (Documentaries about pollution in the Ukraine are so much easier to follow, for a start) Anyway, Nick returned.

The inhabitants of Albert Square were less than happy to see that this born villain had resurfaced. But there lies the question. Was Nick Cotton a born villain? Is anyone born to be anti-social? Nick claimed to have transformed his personality and been "born again". The street-wise locals were unconvinced. "Once a villain always a villain", concluded Pete Beale, the fruit stall-holder and moral philosopher. Well, to cut the story short—bearing in mind that your reviewer and several million others followed the saga for many weeks—it turned out that Nick Cotton was far from a changed being. In fact, his reason for returning to his mother was to poison her so that he could get her money. The details of this tedious plot are not important. But the message should not escape us: the conservative belief that leopards never change their spots. Rogues are just like that—it's in their genes or something. Capitalist ideology is obsessed with the illusion of innate evil. EastEnders has served to fuel a sense of popular cynicism which sustains that ideology and helps to prop up those old myths about human nature

Old Myths and Ancient Bigots

Last month saw the unelected Lords' decision to prevent the prosecution of the old Nazis who had taken refuge in Britain, and also we witnessed the sick activities of newer Nazis who desecrated a Jewish cemetery in North London, leaving swastikas behind as a mark of offence. Two TV programmes made it clear that such mindless racism is still alive and . . . kicking is the appropriate verb, it would seem.

In Russia the Jew-hating racists of Pamyat are spewing out their poison in the new atmosphere of glasnost. World in Action (ITV, 4 June. 8.30pm) showed how Jewish workers in Leningrad were being indiscriminately attacked by these fascists. One boy in a Leningrad school was kicked down a flight of stone stairs by a PE teacher who had told him that he did not like Jews; a Jewish woman interviewed explained how her flat was broken into by Pamyat racists who killed her husband in the course of the vicious attack. Dmitri Vasiliev, a personification of poisonous ignorance who leads Pamyat, blamed the Jews for the Bolshevik revolution; "They may denounce Communism today, but they gave it to us as a present. Because Marx is a Jew and, I might add, they crucified Christ". So, after over seventy years of state-capitalist rule in the name of socialism the state has not even succeeded in wiping out the cancer of racism inside Russia. On the contrary, the utter failure of the Bolshevik experiment has led workers to seek scapegoats in order to take out their anger at the wretchedness of their impoverished lives.

But why make Jews the scapegoat? Shadow On The Cross (C4. 6 June, 9pm) was a very informative documentary about the historical role of Christianity as a machine for propagating anti-semitic racism. The programme quoted from the bigoted writings of the Christian saints (St Gregory: "The Jews are murderers of the Lord, rebels and detesters of God companions of the devil, darkeners of the mind . . . enemies of all that is beautiful" ) and showed how most of the anti-Jewish actions of the Nazis had been predated by papal edicts. For example, in medieval Europe, Jews were forced to live in ghettoes and wear yellow circles as marks of inferior identification. Luther, the father of protestantism. was quoted as asking: "What shall we do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? First, to set fire to their synagogues and bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man need ever again see a stone or a cinder of them. This is to be done in honour of our Lord and of Christendom. so that God might see that we are Christians".

Is it any wonder, the programme asked, that when the leading Nazi anti-semite, Streicher, was on trial at Nuremburg he pleaded that he was only obeying the teachings of Luther? It is a decadent and outmoded social system which concocts such poisons for workers to swallow.
Steve Coleman

The Technology Exists (1990)

From the July 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
"What is most surprising is that solutions which, used in tandem, could reduce every air pollutant by 60 to 99 per cent—or better—are already here but are simply rejected, unknown or unsold. Technologies and practices which could produce pollution-free cars, clean power plants, energy-efficient houses and a dramatically more benign environment are trapped in an obstacle course of institutional inertia, money and special interests".
— Curtis A. Moore in International Wildlife, Canada, May-June 1989.

Liberation and Loot in Austria (1955)

From the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Austria has had another liberation—the fifth in this generation, i.e. since the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which in its time and turn had itself played the role of “liberator” of other nations) became the simple Republic Austria. That was in 1918 when it was liberated from the Hapsburg Dynasty. In 1934 the country was liberated from the “Reds,” in 1938 from the Dollfus-Schuschnigg dictatorship, in 1945 from Hitler-Germany’s “national Socialism” and in 1955 we record the liberation from the Four-Power occupation. Although every one of these previous “revolutions” had at the time been declared by the respective engineers and managers and their Press as decisive and final (at least for a thousand years), who would have the temerity in the face of the almost general acclamation to assert that the present (1955) liberation was not a more outstanding event than the others? Does it not only bring final “freedom, independence, sovereignty, peace and social justice” to Austria, but also augur well as an example of good will and pacification returning to a greatly troubled world in general? In hundreds of articles and broadcasts this was impressed upon the people. The Vienna Press this time was unanimous. Nationalistic Press hysteria celebrated veritable orgies. After more than 260 futile conferences in these last 10 years, and another 9-day conclave behind locked doors this month of May, the foreign Ambassadors finally arrived at an agreement to be submitted to and signed by the proxies of the Four Big Concerns concerned, plus Austria. At long last, freedom and independence had been secured.

The ceremonies which included of course receptions and banquets took place in the Palace of Belvedere and the Castle of Schönbrunn (which latter had seen within its walls such other one time liberators as Napoleon, and subsequently housed the famous Vienna Congress in 1815). Workers had to work overtime to give an extra shine to the historic places for the occasion. The delegates were feted and profusely photographed—their pictures must have gone round the whole world. Crowds called for the repeated appearance of the ministers on the balcony, just as they had done at the Hotel Imperial in 1938 after the entry of yet another liberator in Vienna. All the church bells rang out; a special thanksgiving service was celebrated in St. Stephen’s Cathedral by H.E. Cardinal lnnitzer himself, who, like the late great “Socialist” statesman Dr. Renner, had in 1938 voted for Hitler and the Anschluss. If the Holy Trinity of Press, Radio and Pulpit, were unanimous in jubilation, it cannot be said that the people as a whole justified the exuberant enthusiasm with which they were credited by the publicity directors. Not only cynics, jesters and sceptics, but earnest and thoughtful folk generally) many doubtless pondering over the distressing and uncertain fate of their husbands, sons and brothers still behind the iron curtain, did not seem to be able to forget their cares and worries or get themselves to believe in the bright future that was said to be ahead.

Was it that after all these boasted achievements of freedom and independence the mass of the people discovered that, as a witty Frenchman said: “The more it changes, the more it is the same thing”; was it that people's thoughts turned to the Monday morning when those who were dependent on an employer or, worse still, dependent on the dole or public assistance, would start the “new era” of freedom and independence not in abundance and security, but in the same penury as yesterday? Or was it that when Austria's minister showed from the balcony of the castle the signed document to a waiting crowd, another historic episode sprang to people's minds—the picture of Mr. Chamberlain (back from a conference with Hitler—flourishing the "Peace in our Time” document from another balcony a twelve-month only before the outbreak of World-war II? Or was it the knowledge that the liberators did not give freedom and independence as a free gift, but exacted a high price for it and imposed a heavy burden to meet? Was it that the people could already hear the well-known call for increased production, and sacrifices to be brought for the blessing of freedom and sovereignty? Was it the constant consciousness of all these wretched, harassing and depressing things that did not allow the people as a whole to justify the universal enthusiasm alleged to stir one and all?

The fact is that, though there certainly is general and well justified relief here at the prospective departure of not only the Muscovite, but of all the other occupation elements from Austria, the working-class have become more or less tired of promises and sceptical of Treaties and Pacts made by statesmen and politicians on behalf of their masters. Socialists hope that the truth we keep hammering in, namely that all the freedoms in capitalism put together still leave the mass of mankind shackled and unfree, will soon be realized in wider circles and that the workers will at last strive for the ONE FREEDOM which is not a farce: the emancipation of the working-class of the world from the thralldom of the exploiters of labour.

Now what credentials had and have all these liberators, past and present, for their actions? What cause have they served? Have they served the all-important cause of ridding the world from poverty, insecurity, class-conflict and war? What problem have the 45 wars and “revolutions” in the last 100 years solved for the mass of the people—the working-class? Have the unspeakable tragedies, the untold ruins and rivers of blood and tears been justified that accompanied “liberations” down to this day? Has the fundamental status of the world's wealth-producers as mere objects of exploitation been altered or even advanced one iota towards one of free men? Is it no longer a condition of the workers’ very existence that they have a job in some profit-making enterprise? Have they even secured the miserable enough right to work? Ask the young who left school, or those whom Capitalism calls old, too old at 45 or even at 35, and they will tell you heartrending tales of woe of their difficulties in securing that indispensable thing: a job with some employer, i.e. with some exploiter! “Collier's Magazine” (7.1.1955) brought a revealing picture of a queue of “old people” lined up at a Chicago Labour-Exchange with an article headed: “Shocking as it is, people in the prime of life are denied jobs because of their age.” And what was the solution offered by secretary Mitchell of the Department of Labour in this “freedom and independence” enjoying U.S.A.? “Find places for old workers and MAKE PROFITS from their production, or be taxed much more heavily than now in order to sustain them as non-workers.” (As if you helped a man by sustaining him in idleness and casting him out of society.) No sentimentalities here about human dignity. “The only solution,” says Mitchell bluntly, “is to HIRE the older worker and MAKE A PROFIT from his production.” Just about the same time a debate is raging in a Vienna Trade-Union paper (Solidaritat) on the very same subject of the “too old for a job.” Among a number of letters reproduced in the paper was a mournful but otherwise courageous epistle from a woman saying, among other things:
  “Science endeavours to prolong man's life. What for? You are hardly 40 years of age—willing to work, with sense of duty and with much experience in life, but practically cast out of human society."
We are often told that we must wait for Socialism because of the lack of understanding and of human dignity of the millions of workers in the "backward” countries. Well, since Capitalist spokesmen in advanced and cultured countries can insult the workers by, for instance, distinguishing between them and “intellectuals,” and telling them to their face with brutal bluntness that they are nothing but HIRED objects to make profit from, and since these spokesmen can get away with it with impunity, we ask, where is the difference between the cultured and the uncultured slaves, as far as enlightenment on their social position and a sense of human dignity is concerned? With all your greater experience and opportunities, you have not yet learned that it is the damnable system of Capitalist exploitation that is the cause of your and their misery and degradation! Indeed, in Russia and in China the need of repressive measures and an all-penetrating secret police, the terror the purges and forced labour camps (not to speak of the massacres) by which the Bolsheviks established and maintain their regime of State-Capitalism, would show that there was and is as much opposition in these backward countries as in the Western World. Neither the frequent frank and outspoken confessions in avowed Capitalist publications of the shocking features of modern society, nor the evident humbug and hypocrisy, the lying, deceit and cant of “Socialist” and “Communist’’ leaders seem to stir you to intelligent action in opposition to the horrible system they all serve and want to perpetuate.

But to revert to our latest “world sensation.” In order to illustrate by concrete example the difference between facts and fiction (which differences are often blurred these times), here is what one of the actors in this sensation, the Soviet Union, pretends to stand for, as stated in the organs of the Russian occupation forces and the Communist party in Austria:
  “All that oppressed humanity has ever dreamt, all that the founders of scientific socialism had predicted in their works, has here (on one-sixth of the earth) been realized. A new era in the history of mankind began in 1917."
Now many of the Baltic and Balkan countries, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, half of Berlin and part of Austria, have had the “new era,” the Soviet dream of humanity brought to them.

Speaking for Austria, most people here will, when the “new era” apostles are gone, think of their experience with the latter as a nightmare rather than as a dream of paradise. And this even though this country has not seen the Bolshevik’s blessings on the same scale as their own people and others have. Some people even speak of a Soviet “weak spot” for Austria and point to the “sudden” (after ten years!) decision to let the Austrian government take a turn in establishing their own “new era.”

No more convincing proof of the Russian liberators’ disinterestedness and generosity could be given than this “sensational” State-Treaty. After having for ten years had the onerous job of controlling and collecting the profits from no fewer than 454 large and small Concerns (including the Danube Steamship Co.) with some 63,000 workers, the Russian liberators will hand them back to Austria on payment of a paltry 150 million dollars, plus delivery of one million tons of crude oil annually for ten years, plus the right to seek for oil in various parts of Austria during eight years and in the event of the discovery of new sources to exploit them for 25 years, and plus other trifles. Then there is the renunciation of the further use of the prisoner-of-war labour-force. Considering the loss of profits which this entails for the Soviet government, they insist that Austria should make compensation by at least paying henceforth for the prisoners’ keep and eventual return home. Further proof of Soviet “chivalry” is also provided by their readiness to readmit into the paradise the 30,000 to 40,000 people who had for incomprehensible reasons forsaken the land where the age-long dream of humanity had been realized. (For equally incomprehensible reasons these refugees have declined the noble offer).

Why then, you may ask, were the negotiations conducted behind locked doors, and why this delay in releasing the full text of the Treaty? Could it be that, after all, the delegates had misgivings or pricks of conscience? Were they afraid that if all the articles were published unvarnished, people might discover discrepancies and disparity between professions and reality before the Press had done their preliminary doctoring and explaining away? (The Arbeiter Zeitung for example did their share of sugaring the pill by assuring the public that though the ransom Austria has to pay was no small amount, it was by no means too high a price for the full economic independence. . . .) Could it be that the delegates were ashamed of finding themselves in the same position as all their forerunners:—the negotiators of treaties after all the 45 odd wars of liberation in the last 100 years, of which the world now knows that it never was a question of liberation or lofty ideals, but of grab and loot? Had the hitherto fact of the grab of the goldmines in S. Africa by the British Capitalists, or the Treaty of Versailles (or any other of the dozens of liberation cum grab-crusades) been present in the delegates' minds? Did they perhaps become aware—as they studied the instructions received from their masters for the negotiations—of the manifest analogy of their position with that of thieves (having fallen out over the division of the loot) trying to come to at least a partial and temporary understanding after a ten year quarrel between themselves? Anyway, since another party of burglars, the German Capitalists, are now bitterly protesting against the confiscation of all their loot from the war, and with the thieves’ quarrels continuing unabated elsewhere, anything beyond registering with relief the withdrawal of occupation forces from this theatre of operations—Austria— would be misplaced and unwarranted. For, getting rid of foreign occupation Powers does not mean getting rid of oppression as the people also of many other lands in Europe in Asia and Africa must have learned to their bitter disappointment. So far liberations and revolutions have always meant the exchange of one bunch of exploiters for another, while native rulers of backward countries have often proved worse tyrants even than the foreign exploiters and oppressors they ousted.

The fact is that rulers and leaders all stand for the appropriation and accumulation of wealth by a world privileged class, wealth that is produced by and filched from the mass of the people through the modem wages-system. Asiatic and African leaders have not studied for nothing at the European and American universities.

If war is loot for all to see, it is not so dear and evident in peace-time, though loot is the pivot of the whole mechanism of Capitalism in war and peace. In peace, the robbery taking place, as it does, in the complex process of production, is obscured by the wages-system. Glaring proof of this legalized robbery is. however, the fact that a 100 years of marvellous technical achievements and tremendous increase of wealth produced by the working-class, have left them in a condition of poverty and insecurity. Once the worker comes to understand this crucial fact and recognizes it as the cause of his predicament, he will realize that all these fine words about “liberation. freedom and independence, peace and social justice” are but so many bourgeois slogans and illusions to hide the brutal facts of their thieving system. Already in the French Revolution which put the Bourgeoisie into power, it was “Liberté, égalité, fraternité ” which gulled the destitute masses into fighting the feudal enemies of their enemies, the rising Capitalist class, with the result that down to this day the above mentioned fine words mock the poverty-stricken French workers from every public building. It is certainly remarkable that it should still be possible for politicians to dispense and find listeners to these old outworn hollow phrases.

Enough has been said on the preposterous Nazi—and Bolshevik claim of having inaugurated a new social order, a “people’s democracy’’—this swindle is now too obvious and well known. But how little “freedom, independence and democracy” etc., mean to the working-class under Capitalism even in the “free world” countries: the U.S., Great Britain, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, is shown by the fact that the status of the workers there is likewise that of property-less wage-slaves, dependent for their very means of existence, on the precarious chance of securing a job with some employer. Such a status does not and cannot make for the enjoyment of life. Work under such circumstances can never be identified, as it ought to and will be under Socialism, with real satisfaction and pleasure; it is only done to keep the wolf from the door. And wherever people have to work for wages, to make profit for an employer, any accident, illness, or other physical or mental disability—not to mention the factor of age—becomes something akin to a family catastrophe. The employers, even of the Welfare State, will quickly make you understand that they are not a welfare institution; but mean to make the Concern for which they have hired you, pay—the shareholders want their loot all the time.

Unfortunately, in so far as workers have not become altogether apathetic towards politics, they are, despite all disillusions), failures and frustrations still putting their trust in leaders and falling for the day to day affairs that invariably are only concerns of their enemies: the Capitalist class. It is a commentary on the policy and activity of the so-called “Socialist Party of Austria,” the “Communist” party and their fellow travellers everywhere that so far from getting the workers interested in, and educated to Socialism, they are busy assisting the Capitalistic state in building up still more devastating armaments. Not to be left behind by their big brother in England, who is all for the production of A-H-bombs, the Austrian Socialist Party and Communist Party, are now debating the form of the new army with at least ’‘conventional weapons.” No doubt, the S.P., having a quarter of a century ago organized the Schutzbund with a view to opposing by force of arms the power of the state, and thus invited the disaster and terrible fate it met in 1934. have learned a lesson. It is. however, not a lesson Socialists teach, but a lesson for leaders how to keep their jobs. The red colour of the banners carried by the ill-fated Schutzbund, with the inscriptions Freiheit, Gleichheit, Bruderlidikeit, Freundschaft,” etc., will be replaced by different dyes and inscriptions. It will be the red-white-red variety and perhaps the Double-Eagle. Sure, it will warm the cockles of the hearts of many an old Austrian soldier and general, though other people will contemplate the spectacle of trooping the colour, philosophically saying to themselves : Well, the more it changes, the more it is the same thing.
Rudolf Frank

Notes by the Way: Making Strikes Illegal (1955)

The Notes by the Way Column from the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Making Strikes Illegal

The increase in the number and extent of strikes has started discussion in Government circles of possible new trade union legislation. The Economist (18 June) warns of difficulties and has an interesting comment on the part played by strikes in Capitalism.
  “One idea that needs to be consigned firmly to the scrapheap from the start is the proposal that strikes as a whole should be declared illegal, and that all trade unions should be constrained by law to accept impartial arbitration upon their disputes. This proposal is unfair, undesirable and impracticable. It is unfair because the threat of a strike is a trade union’s last weapon for securing an increase in wages to which it feels that its members are entitled; and, in an imperfect world, arbitration in a country where strikes were theoretically debarred would always be less favourable to the workers than arbitration in a country where strikes are still legal The proposal is undesirable because the pressure towards higher wages exerted by trade unions is a dynamic as well as an inflationary force in any economy; it helps to draw resources into the trades that are most profitable, and it forces employers into the most labour-saving, and therefore the most forward-looking, forms of production. Last, but not least, the proposal is impracticable because the trade unions simply would not wear it, and would always find ways to flout any such dictatorial decree; if 70,000 engine drivers decided that they all felt too ill to work on a certain day, no government could put all the 70,000 in prison.”

#    #    #    #

The Election Results

Naturally political commentators have been busy since the election trying to interpret the heavy fall of votes that reduced the Labour Party M.P.s to 277 in an enlarged House of Commons of 630 members. (At the 1951 election Labour won 295 in a House of 625).

The Economist's analysis (4/6/55) produced the following summary:—
  “It was not the swung, but the stay-at-homes, who decided the election. The total poll was 76.8 per cent., compared with 82.6 per cent in 1951. Within those totals (1) Labour polled 12.4'million votes compared with 13.9 million in 1951. One-and-a-half million people—or more than one out of every ten of those who voted Labour last time—did not this time feel excited enough to turn out. (2) The Conservatives polled 13.3 million votes compared with 13.7 million in 1951. As they piled up some 165,000 votes in four Ulster constituencies where they were unopposed last time, it seems that over half a million people who voted Tory last time did not vote this time (3) The Liberals polled 722,000 votes, about 8,000 less then in 1951. In the constituencies with unchanged boundaries in which they fought in both 1951 and 1955, however, their votes went up by an average of about 450 per constituency. More than the whole of their increase in the share of the votes in these constituencies was at the expense of Labour.”
The Labour vote was 46.4 per cent, of the total vote compared with the Tories’ 49.7 per cent, and the 3.9 per cent that went to Liberals and others. In 1951 Labour got 48.8 per cent, and the Tories 48 per cent.

The Communist Party ran 17 candidates and lost 15 deposits through getting less than one-eighth of the votes— total cost of lost deposits £2,250. But comparing their votes at this election with the vote obtained in the same constituencies in 1951 (or in 1950 if no candidate stood in 1951) it would seem that on balance the Communists somewhat improved their position. The total vote of their 17 candidates was 33,144. In 1951 their ten candidates obtained 21,640.

Of the Bevanites the Economist says:—
  “It is not necessarily true to say that Bevanite sitting members did badly in this election. Mr. and Mrs. Bevan, the Coventry duet, and Mrs. Barbara Castle, did do rather badly; but they were in the sort of areas where the general trend was towards a low Labour turn-out. On the other hand Mr. Mikardo, Mr. Greenwood, Mr. Harold Wilson and Mr. Harold Davies all did rather well.”

#    #    #    #

Remarkable Admission by Mr. Attlee

In a speech to a Labour Women’s Gala at Durham on 4 June Mr. Attlee spoke about the need for the Labour Party to carry on after their defeat in the General Election. Having mentioned the struggles “the blood, sweat and tears” of the present generation of Labour Party members and of their forerunners, he dealt with what remains to be done. And this is what he said :—
“We are nowhere near the kind of society we want We have an infinitely long way to go.” (Manchester Guardian, 6/6/55.)
Mr. Attlee meant by this that we are nowhere near Socialism.

Yet in 1949 in a speech at Walthamstow he said:— 
  "In these three and a half years you have had a new pattern set up in this country. The social reforms which we introduced nave not been patchy; they have represented a new social order. . . . We have had a great experience in democratic Socialism.” (Manchester Guardian, 22/1/49.)
In his Durham speech in June of this year Mr. Attlee claimed that the work of the Labour Party has endured despite their electoral defeat, because it has influenced the Tories:—
  “They have had to accept what we have done: in fact they claim to have done the same things only they say they have done them better. They have had to accept many things which 20, 30 or 40 years ago they would have denounced as heresies, impossibilities and silly Socialism.” (S. Times, 5/6/55.)
It is difficult to discover from Mr. Attlee’s various statements what conception he now has of the way in which what he regards as Socialism is to be achieved.

If in 1955 it is an infinitely long way off, what has happened to the “ new social order ” of 1949?

And if the "new social order” of 1949 was not to be taken literally but was Mr. Attlee’s fanciful way of describing some modest social reforms which the Tories also accept, how does Mr. Attlee think his Socialism ever will be achieved? For the Labour Party never envisaged the possibility of the Tories beating them at their own game of catching workers' votes with reforms, They never thought to see the day when a majority of the workers, having had Labour Government for six years, would prefer to see Capitalism run by Tories. Though, as it happens, this ought to have been no surprise at all to Mr. Attlee for in 1937 in his “Labour Party in Perspective” (p. 123) he wrote:—
  “The plain fact is that a Socialist Party cannot hope to make a success of administering the capitalist system because it does not believe in it”
Mr. Attlee’s dilemma is complete. For if he does not think the Labour' Party in office can make a success of the job of administering Capitalism how can he hope to win elections by showing that it is a success?

The Labour Party used to dismiss the S.P.G.B. case for concentrating on winning straight support for Socialism, with the argument that the workers did not want Socialism “an infinitely long way” off, but wanted a Labour Government to give them practical benefits now by removing the worst causes of discontent.

But now we have Mr. Emanuel Shinwell, Minister of Defence in the Labour Government, telling the Staffordshire miners that the reason Labour lost the election was that “most people were satisfied with things as they are. But they were dissatisfied with the disgraceful brawling in the Labour Party and by what seemed to be a scramble for power.” (Reynolds News, 12/6/55).

So the workers, after 50 years of Labour propaganda, do not want a Labour Government to give them practical benefits now but want a Tory Government to do the job.

Where does Mr. Attlee go from here?

#    #    #    #

Is it Foolish?

The following appeared in the Stratford Express (3 June, 1955):—
“How Foolish
  “It seems so simple to put a cross against the name of a chosen candidate—so simple that it is almost impossible to go wrong. Yet in these local divisions scores of people wasted their votes by spoiling papers in one of a variety of ways. In one of the West Ham divisions, for instance, there were 40 spoilt papers. Some people had added their name and address; some had scrawled the letters S.P.G.B. (Socialist Party of Great Britain) on the paper, while others had voted for each of the candidates and a few had put the paper in the ballot box completely blank. An indication of their state of mind, perhaps!"
It is, of course, the reference to the S.P.G.B. that concerns us, and it has to be taken in conjunction with the statement that it is “so simple to put a cross against the name of a chosen candidate.” But suppose you don’t choose either candidate. Suppose you are one of the million and a half former Labour voters who could discern so little difference between the parties that it wasn’t worth while voting.

Or, again, suppose you are a Socialist and do not want Capitalism at all, not Labour-administered Capitalism or Tory-administered Capitalism? What should you do then? Is it foolish to show on the ballot paper what you do want? It has at any rate had the merit that it caught the attention of the Stratford Express.

Of course Socialists would prefer to have their own Socialist candidates to vote for, but the Labour, Tory and Liberal parties, by agreement on the £150 deposit, made it very difficult for a small organisation to enter the field.

#    #    #    #

Peaceful uses of Atomic Power

All the people who are clamouring for “wars without H-Bombs” instead of working for a social system that won’t engender war, think they are being ever so humane and practical when they plead that atomic energy should be put to “peaceful uses for the good of mankind.” What they really show is that they haven’t learned the first thing about the cause of war.

Alongside the clamour about bombs, but attracting less attention, powerful groups of firms in all the leading countries are preparing for the struggle to gain the market for atomic equipment. One group of seven British engineering and electrical companies has formed the Nuclear Power Plant Co., which, according to the Evening Standard (19/5/55), has a capital of £1,000,000, but has behind it the £75 million of the sponsoring companies.

An Atomic Trade Fair is to be held in Geneva in August. A Financial Times correspondent reports:
  “The exhibition is to be attended by representatives from 84 countries and companies from the U.S., France, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Holland and Norway will be exhibiting their designs for atomic power plants and for nuclear energy equipment of all sorts in an effort to gain future business in competition with the U.K. from countries less experienced in atomic power development.
  “Russia will be exhibiting atomic energy designs and equipment of many types, and her exhibit may rival those of Britain, the U.S. and France—the largest exhibitors.”
(Financial Times, 8/6/55.)
A Financial Times editorial (11/6/55) pressed the importance of these early stages “for competition will grow increasingly fierce and what is done now will determine the success of Britain in the future.”

The simple fact is that Capitalism's fierce conflicts for markets and raw materials, are not and cannot be "peaceful," whether the commodity on sale is atomic plant, coal, petrol, steel, textiles, or anything else. Here is the breeding ground of war.

This is very unpleasant reading for well-meaning Pacifists, but these are the facts of Capitalist life.

The rivalry in obtaining sources of uranium and other materials for atomic power, and in capturing markets for atomic equipment, will be just as fruitful of international conflict as were past struggles to acquire iron ore, petrol, coal, etc., and markets in which to sell the products.

#    #    #    #

The Millionaires’ Welfare State

According to the Daily Express City Editor (25/5/55) Mr. Harold Samuel has done very well for himself under the “Welfare State.”
  “They tell you that it is impossible to make a million in these days of super-high taxation. Well, young man, do not be daunted in your endeavours by such talk.
  “For here is West End property man Harold Samuel to prove that it can be done. And proving it three times over.
  “For under a share plan which comes this morning from Land Securities Investment Trust—key company in Mr. Samuel's property network—he lets drop that his personal stake is 692,000 Ordinary shares.
   “And in markets each of those 10s. shares command a price just Is: short of a fiver at 99s. In all £3,426.000.
   “Lush indeed has been the money-making of anyone who backed the Samuel's star when he took over Land Securities eleven years ago.
   “Then its shares were priced at 8s. a go in markets. Allowing for free issues each of those shares would now command a dizzy £66 apiece.
   “For the Samuel policy has been to build the group up big in property at a time when property values were rising even faster than his shares.
    “A policy which pays off handsomely—for Mr. Samuel.” 
Note the dates. The foundations of the “Welfare .State” were being laid in 1944 when various schemes were prepared under the Coalition Government and put into operation after the Labour victory in 1945. And it is in this period that Mr. Samuel has built up his three and a half millions. And what predominantly helped to push up property values was the Labour Government’s inflationary policy, faithfully continued by the Tories.

The Welfare State ought to have at least one very enthusiastic backer.

There are many others, too.

The rise in property values that helped Mr. Samuel has "been paralleled by the rise in share values on the Stock Exchange and for the same general reason. And Mr. Gaitskell, in the House of Commons on 16 June, 1955, estimated that holders of ordinary shares have gained £5,000 million through the share rise of the past 15 months.

And all the time, including the years of Labour Government, small savers who put money into the Savings Bank or Savings Certificates were having the real value of their savings whittled away by the same price rise.

This must be what the Labour Party means by a more equal distribution of wealth and what the Tories mean by a property-owning democracy.

#    #    #    #

Calling up Striking Seamen

The Daily Mirror (17/6/55) published the following:—
  “One hundred seamen involved in the unofficial strike of Cunard liner crews received preliminary notices of call-up at Liverpool yesterday.
  “They are men aged between eighteen and twenty-six. whose call-up was deferred when they joined the Merchant Navy.
  “Now they are unofficially unemployed and liable to be called-up. The notices they received by post yesterday asked them to say which service they preferred.
  “Many of them rushed to the Shipping Federation in Liverpool to ask what to do.
  “Strike leaders said: ‘They were told at the Federation that if they signed a form promising not to break any more contracts with the Maritime Board the call-up would be deferred again.
   “ ‘This is a form of intimidation.’
  “Normally if men under twenty-six leave a ship several weeks elapse before they are assumed to have left the sea and to be liable for call-up.'”
We need hardly be surprised at the action by the authorities but how do Liberals, who profess to be the protectors of individual rights against Tory reaction and Labour Regimentation, view the editorial in the Liberal Star (16/6/55) which urged the new Tory Government to take this step?
  “Surely Parliament must take a hand without delay. After all, the Minister of Labour and National Service have power to serve the strikers with their call-up papers.”
It is only fair to add that the Liberal Manchester Guardian protested at the Government’s action.

#    #    #    #

Co-operative Strike Beating

The Cooperative movement long ago forgot its origins and is just another Capitalist trading organization. But it does not so regard itself. It claims to be a movement to help the workers and is in direct association with the Labour Party and T.U.C. The following heading and extract is from an article in Cooperative News (11/6/55). They show that the trading operations of the Cooperative movement, conducted according to normal Capitalist rules within the framework of Capitalism, create precisely the same outlook as is to be found in any other trading concern.
“Beat-the-Strike measures are in full swing 
  "By using their own transport and in some cases working late into the night, co-operative societies throughout the country are beating the rail strike. Coal supplies, which are the hardest hit, are being carried by societies' own lorries from the pitheads.
  “At Derby Society, coal department employees worked throughout last week-end restocking the coal yards. With the society’s own vehicles and tipper lorries borrowed from the building department, the society built up a sufficient stock to satisfy present demands.”
Of course those responsible for this will indignantly retort that they could not do anything else in the circumstances. Too true. Those who think they can "beat the Capitalists at their own game” have no choice but to strive to preserve the great illusion they have created.

#    #    #    #

Educational Progress?

At the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers the President, Mr. Frank Barton had something to say about the educational system. After mentioning that the hopes roused by the Butler Education Act had still not been fully realised, he said:—
  "Is this really surprising? Popular education has always had a parsimonious existence. It was conceived in poverty, born in penury, cradled in privation, and nurtured in frugality.
   “Unfortunately the niggardly attitude which characterised its introduction still persists. In this respect some local administrators are as much to blame as the central Government. Taking into account the increased numbers of pupils and the inflationary value of the pound, we are spending less to-day on educating the children of this country than we spent before the war. This can hardly be called progress.
   “Too many of our children are still being educated in overcrowded, under-heated, unhygienic, and badly lighted conditions. It is regrettable that one solution to the shortage of classrooms has been the utilisation of ugly nineteenth-century buildings with dark, dungeon-like passages." (Manchester Guardian, 30/5/55.)
Edgar Hardcastle

Nationalisation—The Labour Party's Millstone (1955)

Editorial from the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the minds of supporters and opponents alike the the Labour Party has always been associated with Nationalisation and up to 1945, it was a popular item in that party's, programme. It had the attractions of novelty and to “progressives,” including some in the Liberal and Tory parties, it promised to be a happy blend of warm idealism with practical realism. For the candidate at elections it was the way to win friends and influence voters. Now, saddening experience has taken off the bloom. Fewer than half the electors can be induced to vote for the party that sponsored it and those who really love it are fewer still. This does not worry the S.P.G.B., for we never had any illusion about it and never supported it; but for the Labour Party it is a disaster. In the fifty years since our formation in 1904, while we were warning the workers not to waste their time on nationalisation, because at most it could solve only Capitalist problems, the Labour Party were polarising it, campaigning for it, and resting their hopes for continued electoral victory on nationalisation proving a success.

We, too, were partly wrong. We were right in saying that nationalisation would solve no working class problem but we are now faced with the situation that British Capitalists decided, at least for the present, that nationalisation is of little use to them either.

It is not difficult to explain this. In the long boom years since the war it has been easy to sell and easy to make profits, and it is only the Capitalist whose wealth is invested in declining or depressed industries who looks hopefully on being bought out by the Government. Another reason, one that influences manufacturers and traders as a whole, is that the nationalised industries, notably coal and transport, have not given the anticipated low charges high efficiency and freedom from strikes. They may be wrong about this. It may be that the same industries left in private hands would have served the great body of Capitalists even worse; but be that as it may many of them have reached the conclusion that the experiment has failed them.

The attitude of the Labour Party leaders in this, to them, alarming situation has been confused and disingenuous. Some have thought it best to stick to the old propaganda because that is what their supporters are used to, while others have thought it expedient to try to find new ways of winning votes. So in the recent election the Conservatives found themselves fighting a divided and dispirited Labour army—those at the back pushed for more nationalisation while those at the front tried to keep their one-time favourite child, out of sight.

Indeed, some of them are now pretending that the Labour Party never really did attach more than minor importance to nationalisation, though the evidence of their former declarations proves this to be an absurd distortion of the facts.

In 1929, for example, the late Arthur Henderson, who was a Minister in the two Labour Governments of 1923-4 and 1929-31, and became Leader of the Party in 1931, made a forthright declaration that nationalisation was the fundamental issue dividing the Labour Party from its opponents. This was in the Foreword to a pamphlet, “The Success of Nationalisation,” written by Thomas Johnston, another prominent member of the Labour Party. This is what Mr. Henderson had to say:—
  "This pamphlet deals with a fundamental issue of modem politics. Nationalisation is a much abused word, and its meaning is often misunderstood and misrepresented. But as a matter of principle and policy it represents the dividing line between the Labour Party and the orthodox parties whose historical supremacy it has so successfully challenged.”
and again, after identifying nationalisation with Socialism, Mr. Henderson wrote:—
  “More clearly than ever as the political parties develop their respective economic policies, it can be seen that Nationalisation is the dividing issue between them.” (Italics his.)
The claims the Labour Party made for nationalisation in those days were varied: some to appeal to the Capitalist, some to appeal to the workers.

In “The Modern Case for Socialism,” published in 1928, Mr. A. W. Humphrey, a member of the Labour Party, quoted with approval the argument used by Chiozza Money (a Liberal who later supported the Labour Party) that nationalisation of the railways would provide cheap transport for manufacturers. Money had quoted the charges made by the privately run British railways by contrast with those on the German State railways: “The charge for carrying hardware from Birmingham to Newcastle (207 miles) was 15/- per ton, but from Dortmund to Rotterdam (153 miles) was 10/- per ton” (p. 195).

A second line of sales-talk for nationalisation was that it would improve the relations between employers and employed; which has an odd flavour now when strikes in the nationalised coal mines and on the railways are the order of the day.

Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, twice Prime Minister in Labour Governments, developed this theme in his “Socialism: Critical and Constructive” (first published in 1921, re-issued in 1924 and 1929). He not only promised that this better relationship would develop but quoted an example that had, he said, come to his notice in some country (unnamed) where an industry had been nationalised.
  “They would never dream of going back to the old bad relationship. The managers themselves were happier in their work and found far more heartiness in it. The men had abandoned of their own free will the most provocative restrictions which they had enforced—or tried to enforce— as a protection against Capitalism, and which undoubtedly hampered production." (1929 edition, p. 169.)
That was the hope. We have recently seen the reality in the railway strike. Mr. Baty, general secretary of the strikers’ union the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, made the following statement to the Sunday Express (5 June, 1955):—
  “I agree one was entitled to expect an improvement in labour relations under the new set-up. But, in fact, they have deteriorated very considerably."
One of the arguments of MacDonald and other Labour leaders was that under nationalisation the old concern of the Railway Directors with the financial aspect would disappear. Mr. Baty, on the contrary, says of the nationalised railways:—‘The men at the top . . . are always looking round to see how they can avoid this or that item of spending.”

One ironical incident of the railway strike was the resolution passed by 1,000 strikers at Willesden demanding the dismissal of the members of the British Transport Commission (Daily Worker, 13/6/55). This Commission includes former officials of the locomen’s union and the N.U.R.!

Still another illusion of the Labour Party was that nationalisation would reap big profits and enable these to be used, at least in part, for the benefit of the workers. The late Philip Snowden, another leader of the Labour Party, put this in his "If Labour Rules” (1923, page 27)
  “Nationalisation would place at the disposal of the State the means of raising the standard of life of large numbers of workers.”
This may be judged by the recent complaint of the railway unions that their members wages have fallen behind the levels of private industries..

It was the belief of the Labour Party before it came to power that as industries were nationalised the benefits falling to grateful workers and grateful users would generate enthusiasm for more nationalisation and win ever increasing support for the Party responsible.

They can no longer believe in this and the election delivered a blow to their hopes in the Cleveland division where live many workers employed by Imperial Chemical Industries. During the campaign the threat was made that a future Labour Government would nationalise that firm, or part of it; which I.C.I. countered with a scheme of profit-sharing. A correspondent of the Manchester Guardian (18/5/55) reported that the Conservatives made this a prominent issue and that “trade unionists within the industry have reported that the men are threatening not to vote at all in the election.”

After the election the Economist (4/6/55) commented:—
   “A final striking result was the cut in Mr. Palmer's majority in the unchanged Labour seat of Cleveland, from 5,481 to 181; the workers in this constituency are largely employed by Imperial Chemical Industries, which Labour has promised to nationalise.”
The election has been followed by the Conservative Prime Minister’s announcement that his Government intends to encourage companies to introduce schemes of profit-sharing and co-partnership. The Tories now think that they can win votes by promising such schemes in place of nationalisation.

It only needs to add that the Socialist Party will criticise profit-sharing as it has always criticised nationalisation, and for the same reason; that Socialism is what the workers interest requires not the perpetuation of Capitalism whether as private Capitalism or as State Capitalism.

Party News Briefs (1955)

Party News from the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ealing Branch. Ealing Branch’s special May sales drive has been an overwhelming success. 53 dozen S.S. were sold altogether and the response of members was truly heartening. No doubt the target for the next campaign will have to be raised to 60 dozen. What is really required, however, is an even greater number of members to take up canvassing; with double the response from members, the sale of a 1,000 S.S. a month would be well within our powers.

The first of the Branch’s propaganda trips to Southsea (on 5th June), was very successful. Two carloads of members made the journey. The weather, for once, was fine, and a useful outdoor meeting was held all the afternoon. A second trip is projected later in the season.

The experiment of running the Ealing Green meetings on Saturday afternoon instead of the evening has met with a reasonable degree of success so far. Members are asked to do their best to support the meetings, which promise well.

The Branch is doing very well in most spheres at the moment. There is plenty of activity and interest, and attendance at Branch meetings is good and consistent. Some new members have been made or acquired and these have given useful support at a time when we are in urgent need of extra “manpower.” Ex-members and sympathisers are asked to contact the Branch and help play their part in further expanding the influence and activity of the Party in the area.

S.W. London Branch wish to contact Comrade Carnell, who has moved from the district and as the Branch is unable to contact him as they are unaware of his new address. The Secretary of the Branch at Head Office, 52, Clapham High Street, would be pleased to have news of Comrade Carnell.

Members and sympathisers are reminded that a list of Party pamphlets is given in this issue and the Literature Committee will be pleased to forward copies on request. Prices of pamphlets and postage rates are mentioned in the list. A subscription form for the Socialist Standard is also in this issue.

Although the weather has not been very helpful, it is hoped that when conditions permit, members will support outdoor propaganda meetings as often as possible. It makes the speaker’s job easier if members are at hand to help out with literature sales and to form a nucleus of an audience at meetings.

Branch Directory on back page of the Standard. There are several alterations this month regarding meeting days and change of secretaries addresses, so please refer to this in case your branch is one that has changed details.
Phyllis Howard

Blogger's Note:
From the same issue, see also 'Ealing Branch May Sales Drive'.

Speed and commerce at Le Mans (1955)

From the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

The tragedy at Le Mans, French automobile racing venue, on 13th June during the 24-hour “endurance” test in which one of the drivers crashed to death among the spectators, 85 of whom were killed and others injured, is a grim reflection of the price men pay in the quest for speed—or so it appears on the surface.

The question arises, why all this speed? Why should men risk their lives in order that a German “Mercedes” shall “lick” an Italian “Ferrari,” or an English “Jaguar” prove faster than both? Surely speed for speed’s sake is not the only reason for ignoring a death roll of 85 and risking a repetition? Let Mr. Charles Faroux, Le Mans director, answer our queries. According to the Bristol Evening World, of 13th June, he says:
   “In an interview with the Paris newspaper Figaro: ‘Immediately after the accident I was asked to stop the race. In spite of the horror of the situation. I did not think the sporting trial should be stopped. The British set the example three years ago at Farnhorough. Even when a disaster of such frightful proportions occurs, the rough law of sport dictates that the race shall go on.’ "
After excusing himself on the grounds of a precedent set by the British and claiming what he describes as the dictates of the “rough law of sport"—Mr. Faroux finally comes to the point and lets the proverbial cat out of the bag.
  “M. Faroux said that if the race had been stopped . . . ‘Firms could have sued us for hundreds of millions of francs, arguing that we had made them lose terrific advantages obtained by a victor in the 24-hour Le Mans Race.’ ’’ (Bristol Evening World, 13th June.)
Apparently it’s the dictates of the “rough” law of commerce that worries Mr. Faroux. but in the trying circumstances he can be excused a little confusion of words. And so on with the race, despite the dead and dying, for what is at stake here is big business—national prestige and the sales that go with it for firms with a stake in the winning car. Be it engines, fuel, or sparking plugs, tyres, or even brake linings—there’s nothing like a win at Le Mans for pulling in the orders, human flesh and blood notwithstanding. Like all other commodities, cars are produced for sale only, and fast cars sell faster than slow ones in the same price range. Thus, rival firms compete against one another in the seething, constant struggle for trade which is expressed in incidents like Le Mans, with safety margins cut to beyond the limit. This is only one of the many facets of Capitalist trading conditions, which as we said earlier on, appears to be a question of speed—in actual fact it is a problem along with wars, poverty, slums and the H-Bomb. One cannot be solved without each other. Capitalism produces these problems; Socialism alone can bring an overdue end to them. Through the abolition of his wage- slave system, man will finally master his domestic affairs.
G. R. Russell

From Peons to Ions? (1955)

From the July 1955 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the Party’s inauguration over half a century ago it has untiringly persevered with its case for Socialism, by the printed word, the street corner speakers, the platforms in public places—wherever the workers could be attracted, calling upon the world working class to end its problems of poverty, insecurity and mass slaughter.

The Party’s irrefutable case, built on the materialist conception of history, has analysed the capitalist system with all its contradictions and shown the synthesis of this outmoded economic system, which is the only inevitable road humanity can eventually take—in a word— SOCIALISM.

Only the world’s working class can establish this and ensure for the generations of the future the fuller, happier existence which is their natural goal. So far, sufficient numbers of the working class have not united for this common purpose. Nevertheless as it becomes more and more clear that capitalism has outlived its usefulness in social evolution, there accompanies it the hope that the workers will decide to speed the progress by understanding, desiring and determining to establish a Socialist society.

Now for many, possibly the majority, the sands could be running out. The choice and ability of changing society may not continue in its role of a latent probability in the good time of the working class. Today humanity is fast coming face to face with an ultimatum—one which may be utter and final—the fact of thermo-nuclear fission. The choice is becoming oppressive, the decision vital; be politically active or become radio-active. Change the social system of monopoly and privilege for the few, and the defence of these by the victims of the many or become radio-active vapour dominated by the capricious winds.

It is preferable to be integrated in a carefree world of humans, than disintegrated in universal infinitude as radio-active ions. The choice is the prerogative of the working class—socialise or ironize!
C. G. C.

“Each Against All” dashes “United Europe" (1997)

Editorial from the July 1997 issue of the Socialist Standard

In recent weeks the great capitalist Euro project has looked in dire straits. Last month it suffered two massive body blows with the election of the relatively Eurosceptical French “Socialist Party” and Germany’s attempt to revalue its gold reserves in order to meet the strict Maastricht convergence criteria.

Each EU member state attempting to “converge” their economies and economic performance has proved tantamount to demanding the impossible. Wide structural differences between the Euro economies, ranging from differing import/export requirements, tensions between industrial and finance capital, and a less than synchronised trade cycle have meant that real progress on convergence since 1992 has been minimal.

But what lies behind the persistent talk of European federalism and a single currency? In actuality, what we have been witnessing has been the movement of the most dominant section of the capitalist class in Europe— generally based in Germany—to create the most powerful economic, political and military bloc on the planet, a bloc capable of challenging the dominance of the United States. What really worries other sections of the Euro capitalist class is that such a federal bloc will be dominated by German interests to the exclusion of their own. Hence the strategics of states like Britain and France which have centred on how best to contain German dominance—France by encouraging the cohesiveness of the other major European states and Britain by its obviously Eurosceptical and nationalistic posturing. All this being further proof, if any more is needed, that “unity” between capitalist nation states can be nothing more than a temporary charade, a mask for the economic manoeuvring and power posturing that is increasingly setting each nation state against all since the demise of the post-war bloc line-up.

For socialists the “European question” can only be a capitalist question and nothing for the working class to take sides about, despite all the efforts of the differing sections of the capitalist class to enlist the support of the workers, not least of all on the latest Amsterdam Treaty. A single currency in Europe is neither an economic panacea (as Germany and some neo-liberals argue) nor the real cause of the austerity and economic restructuring taking place across much of the continent, a product of capitalisms still lingering world economic crisis. In this respect, the single currency and the Maastricht convergence criteria provide the perfect pretext for attacking working-class living standards while, behind the scenes, remaining an object of intense disagreement among the rulers and owners of Europe.