Monday, June 28, 2021

Single union deals (1988)

From the June 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ford's decision not to go ahead with a new plant in Dundee was based, so most of the media would have us believe, on the controversy that surrounded the single union deal they had agreed with the AEU. The guilty party we were told was the TGWU who opposed the deal. So here we have the unlikely picture presented to us of the big bad TGWU scaring off the little Ford corporation who only had the good intentions of "creating employment" in the Dundee area. Of course the more likely truth is that Ford withdrew because investment in Dundee was less advantageous than it had previously seemed. What the issue did do was to bring the discussion of single union deals out into the open once again.

However as usual under capitalism, misrepresentation has replaced clear information and the debate surrounding this issue has tended to be distorted. To discuss single union deals in a clear light we need to look beneath the surface arguments. By doing this we will find that it is not so much single union deals that are in dispute as the contents of some of these agreements. Secondly we need to analyse the type of environment in which employers have found it more advantageous to sign agreements with a single union. The point here is that the issue cannot be isolated from conditions that exist within modern capitalism.

The first point to be made is that a single union having sole negotiating rights with a particular company is not something which is without precedent. Nevertheless it is true that in British industrial relations multi-union recognition, with each union representing a separate grade of workers, has been the norm. However in the past few years we have seen the growth of single union agreements and many of these have included provisions which have brought about a changed union-management relationship. Some of the earliest single union deals included the ones signed by the EETPU with Hitachi and Toshiba and the AEU's agreement with Nissan. More recently the EETPU have reached a similar agreement with Brother Industries, a Japanese-owned company based in North Wales, whilst the AEU have signed such a deal with Dunlop on Tyneside and the GMB have agreed to a single union deal with British Cable Services owned by Robert Maxwell. In 1985 the TGWU was manoeuvred into accepting a single union agreements at the Norsk Hydro Plant at Immingham on Humberside where the company had previously recognised the EETPU, AEU and ASTMS. [1] 

Ford in Dundee
The growth of single union deals is thus undeniable. But the controversy over them is not, as the media would have us believe, merely over the concept of single unionism but has more to do with the contents of some of these agreements and the way in which they are concluded. This fact stands out particularly in relation to the AEU's agreement with Ford at the proposed plant for Dundee. What precisely was it about the deal that the TGWU objected to? Whilst of course it could be pointed out that had the TGWU been the union chosen their attitude might have been different there is evidence to suggest that the TGWU would not have accepted the agreement as it stood. Firstly, the leadership of the two unions stand far apart on the issue of single union deals and also with the current balance on the TGWU national executive favouring the left it is unlikely that such an agreement could or would have been accepted. Secondly it seems likely that Ford chose the AEU because they were more likely to agree to a package that undercut the existing national agreement between the company and the unions covering pay and conditions for 44,000 workers at 22 plants. Furthermore the leadership of the AEU and the EETPU have been the most willing to organise plants and companies not by recruiting members but by approaching top management of the companies concerned. For example in the deal agreed to between the EETPU and Brother Industries, whilst the TGWU were attempting to recruit workers at that company the EETPU negotiated a deal with the company to gain sole negotiating rights for all employees at the company's electronic typewriter plant at Wrexham and its microwave oven plant at Ruabon, seemingly without the agreement of the employees concerned.

Certainly the TGWU's criticism of the AEU 's deal with Ford seems justified from a trade union point of view. Ron Todd, General Secretary of the TGWU, highlighted the dangers of the deal in the following way.
Ford planned to exploit Dundee's need for investment by setting up a low pay wedge there.
The point of this was to undermine the pay and conditions won through years of struggle. The danger was, Todd continued:
That the company would close down their plants and transfer their work to Dundee at sub standard wages.
Once Ford had been allowed to locate the plant without honouring national agreements how long would it be. Todd asked, before it "decides to try the same trick again?" The point is. then, that the content of the agreement is the stumbling block and not the fact that only a single union is involved. Furthermore one of the most important aspects is how the company or plant is organised. Is it to be on the basis of recruitment of the workers concerned or by negotiations with the company over the heads of the employees? The latter is no basis for solid trade union organisation.

No-strike agreements 
Several single union deals contain "no-strike" provisions. For example most, if not all, of the agreements involving the EETPU include no-strike clauses and several of these make use of pendulum arbitration. Under this method if the two sides reach deadlock on a certain issue then it is resolved by an outside and so-called independent arbitrator who is bound to decide in favour of either the company or the union there being no possibility of a compromise solution. The argument in favour of such a method is that the two sides will be encouraged to reach a negotiated settlement due to the danger that the arbitrator may decide against them. The problem from a trade union viewpoint is that being unable to take any industrial action they will be unable to put any pressure on the arbitrator. In a situation where the company is determined to force through a change it is unlikely that the arbitrator's decision will be reached on the basis of neutrality. Whilst this system may provide some benefit to workers' organisations when they are in a weak bargaining position, unions tied to such agreements will be unable to use their full might when they are in a stronger bargaining position. It is this longer term goal, the ability to constrain union bargaining power when it is at its height, that lies behind the desire of employers for no-strike agreements as part of single union deals. It could of course be pointed out that such agreements are not as yet legally binding but action could be taken against any employees who engage in industrial action on an individual basis in breach of contract.

Not all of the single union deals signed in recent years include no-strike provisions. For example the agreements between the GMB and British Cable Services and between Dunlop's Tyneside plant and the AEU do not include such a clause. The agreement involving the GMB stipulates that both sides should not take any industrial action while a dispute is in procedure. The AEU's deal with Dunlop states that if management and the union cannot resolve a dispute they will mutually accept ACAS conciliation. The agreement between the TGWU and Norsk includes a six stage procedure for the resolution of collective issues. Stage six. if reached, allows for the matter to be put to a secret ballot, with the wording on the ballot form subject to joint agreement. The clause relating to the overall dispute procedure states that during all stages of the procedure:
  It is clearly understood that there will be no deviation from normal working by way of coercion or disruptive action by individuals or groups etc. in any circumstances . . . The company in return will not invoke any form of lockout.
It goes on to warn workers that.
should any individual or group of employees wish to challenge this practice he/she or they will be severely disciplined 
Trade union representation 
Some single union deals also include the type of communication mechanisms that exist in many of the more sophisticated non-union companies. For example, in many of the EETPU deals and in the TGWU's agreement with Norsk, there exists a Company Advisory Board or in the latter case a council. The agreement between the EETPU and Toshiba includes a provision for the establishment of a Company Advisory Board (CoAB). In many ways the function of this body limits the traditional role of the trade unions. The CoAB at Toshiba includes the following provisions. Regarding the election of employee representatives to sit on this body it states that in areas where trade union representation exists the candidate may be either a unionist or non-unionist. Regarding the role of a CoAB member it stipulates that a person should come to a meeting with an open mind and should not be mandated. In addition the member must not be committed to a trade union line. Furthermore the rules accepted by the EETPU state:
  The EETPU. recognises that all collective issues will be raised at CoAB in the first instance and will only be taken up by the trade union if they cannot be resolved by CoAB advice. [3]
The CoAB thus reduces trade union involvement; union representation is not welcomed and where it has trade union representatives on it they are constrained in representing either the interests of their members or union policy.

New technology
The movement in recent years to single union deals is in many ways connected to the demands and possibilities that new technology makes on, and offers to, the representatives of capital. Implicit in the following is the limitations of trade unionism as it is pulled along with, and can only respond in a defensive manner to. the dictates of capital. Here we can also see how technology under capitalism is used not to free but to chain workers to the demands of capital. For one of the most important issues for management in the 1980s is the need to be able to use labour in a flexible way so as to keep expensive production systems flowing and to meet rapid changes in market demand. Many companies who have negotiated single union deals and many others who have pursued a non-union strategy, operate in high technology industries where the need to have a flexible labour force is especially important. Where a union does exist it is obviously easier to move people from job to job in an environment where there are not separate unions representing different crafts and occupations. A flexible labour force means workers being trained in a variety of skills (cross skill training) so they can be moved around as the productive needs of the company dictate. Thus, in many high technology companies, there is a movement to single status employment conditions, common wages and conditions for both blue and white collar workers. Flexibility of labour and single status objectives, two concepts that go hand in hand, are included in most single union deals. It has in fact been noted that one of the major reasons why Nissan rejected a multi-union deal was because it was felt that this would have led to an erosion of the company's flexibility and single status objectives.

The section in the agreement between Norsk and the TGWU on flexibility states that it is the company's policy that workers will have no rigid job demarcations. It goes on to state:
  The whole objective is to achieve a level of flexibility on site so that any employee will, when the need arises, be prepared and willing to do any job regardless of status, function or position provided that the work to be done is within the individual's ability and competence level. In order to achieve this degree of flexibility the company acknowledges the need for extra training to which all employees are expected to be committed, whether it be to be trained themselves or to train others. [4]
The above objective is obviously easier in a single union rather than a multi-union environment.

The point should also be made that new technology not only creates new demands on employers which are passed on to the workforce, it also creates new opportunities for the representatives of capital in their struggle with organised labour. In the environment of the 1980s changes in technology, combined with anti-union legislation and an economic recession, have enabled employers to curtail or even end craft control and to initiate procedures to curb union bargaining power. A prime example of this was the print industry. In this situation unions have been powerless to offer much resistance.

The socialist view
What should be the attitude of a socialist or trade unionist to the type of issues we have focused on here? Firstly a pessimistic view of the future of the trade union movement in Britain can be over-emphasised. As indicated. even if single union deals continue to grow as many argue they will, it is the content of the deal that needs to be examined. One vital feature is that trade union organisation needs to be based on recruitment of employees not on agreements with top management over workers' heads. Secondly such setbacks that have occurred for unions have taken place in a hostile environment that the history of capitalism indicates will not last forever. Thirdly the type of setbacks suffered by trade unions in America where trade union density has declined to somewhere around 18 per cent from a figure of over 35 per cent in 1945, seems unlikely to be repeated in Britain. Unions in Britain in many industries have become too deeply enmeshed in the collective bargaining mechanisms to be easily removed. This factor and the new found ability of well organised groups to use secret ballots to their own advantage was evident in the recent Ford dispute as well as in other recent disputes in the motor industry in particular.

On the other hand there are many problems to overcome. The anti-democratic antiunion laws of the present government are still causing major problems as the NUS's dispute with P&O has indicated. In response to changes in new technology, a change in union structure and tactics may be required. This could perhaps develop at workplace level. For example unions at Shell have accepted more flexible working arrangements but have been able to maintain a multi-union situation. To help achieve this they have reformed their shop steward representative constituencies.

Unions are, of course, necessary and vital organisations for the working class so long as capitalism remains in operation. Any member of the working class who believes that his or her interests can be served by company consultative committees or the like has little understanding of the class struggle that takes place daily within capitalism, based as it is on the irreconcilable interests of those who produce but do not possess and those who possess but do not produce. Certainly what makes a person a socialist is an understanding of the history of working class struggle against a class with opposing interests. A reading and understanding of that history shows us that the only solution is the building of a movement which is capable of creating a society which is not divided into employers and employed or state versus people. Furthermore the society that replaces capitalism will not be based on production for exchange by means of economically coerced labour, but on production for use through understanding and voluntary co-operation. The basis of such a society is the common ownership of the means of production which will replace private or state ownership. With no class divisions based on a clash of economic interest, trade unions will no longer be necessary.

However whilst current divisions remain it is in the interests of the working class to organise themselves in trade unions, become active in them and undertake the defensive struggle within capitalism. Furthermore trade unionists should campaign for a movement free from any attachments to a political party that stands for capitalism and this of course includes the Labour Party. But trade unions have their limitations — they can only react to capitalism; they cannot end it. So trade unionists, and indeed all members of the working class, need to go further and help build a movement capable of ending the capitalist system.
Ray Carr

[1] Details of this can be found in a pamphlet produced by Northern College in co-operation with TGWU Region 10 — I. Linn. Single Union Deals. This is a case study of the Norsk Hydro Plant, at Immingham. Humberside.
[2]  I. Linn — Single Union Deals, p. 16
[3] Agreement between EETPU and Toshiba on CoAB
[4]  Linn, op. cit. p. 16

The daily class struggle (2021)

From the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The rough life expectancy of a person in Britain will be about 28,800 days. Those days are the only ones we will ever have, we never get refunds, we never get leftovers, at best we can increase our allotment of days: with a bit of help from medical science. For someone who works full-time, assuming a full career from 18 to 65 working five days a week, they will give over 12,220 of those days to their employers.

That’s just at the raw level of days. Of course, not every second of each of those days is given over: but usually, the best hours are, the active alert able to perform hours. Eight hours of each of those days is given over to sleep (preparing for another day of work), another couple of hours each day are typically spent travelling to and from work, leaving the rest for eating, relaxing or meeting up with friends and family. But all the other activities are conditioned by being able to turn up to work the next day.

So, here we have the idea of the class struggle. When we give our time over to our employer, we give it to them to achieve the ends they desire. In a capitalist society that means producing commodities: good and services, which they can sell with a view to making a profit. The longer we work for them, the more they can use us, the more we do for them, the more goods and services they can sell for more profit. Thus, they will want as many days from us as they can get.

But, here’s the thing, the struggle isn’t just over days as such, it is about the very definition of ‘day’: what amounts to a day’s work? The number of hours we spend working for them increases how much they can get us to do for them. The fewer hours we work for them, the more time we have for ourselves, for our friends, families and communities.

But it’s not just the length of the day: it can also be about the intensity: working harder during the hours we give over also increases the amount of work and profits we produce for the day buyers. The harder we work at work, the less we can do in our own time, the more it becomes a time for recovery to return to work. Employment contracts are written in the language of abstracted absolute hours, but the reality is that it is what we are capable of doing – or being made to do in a day – that defines what happens to us and our employers.

Just look, for example, at the recent struggle over unionising Amazon warehouse workers. The accusation was that they were worked to such a strict regime that the staff there had to micturate into bottles because they weren’t allowed adequate comfort breaks. The intensity of the class struggle is played in the bodily functions of the workers. Amazon leads the way in the scientific study of efficiency, making sure that every ounce of effort they obtain from their employees is usefully turned to their profit. Making sure that not a second of the day’s work is wasted.

The class struggle, between the people who sell their days and the people who buy them is a struggle to define what happens to the very time we have on Earth. No amount of a rock spinning gets to define that.

Let’s make this a little more concrete. There are roughly 31 million people who are in employment in the UK. Not all of these people are full time – for instance about 3 million are ‘underemployed’ and would like more hours. That might seem strange, but given that our society makes selling your days a condition of getting access to the goods and services you need to live (and that we have to buy from the people who are buying all the days), people want to sell their days. To put that is perspective, about 9 million would like fewer hours (but preferably with the same pay).

(Just as an aside, the 31 million in employment doesn’t encompass the whole of the working class, their relatives who depend upon their sale of days are just as caught up in this system of robbery: we are looking at the vast majority of society being enmeshed in this dispute over days and what to do with days).

But let’s go back to that 31 million. Each of them will sell about 12,000 days of their lives to an employer. 31 million multiplied by 12 thousand leads to a number with more zeroes than it’s worth the breath to say: do the sums yourself, if you want to use a portion of your life on such a thing.

Think about what could be done with that number of days: our ancestors built marvels like Stonehenge with nothing more than deer antlers and lots of days of work: the benefit of all those days’ labour goes not to us, the workers, but to the owners of the world. They need us. Without our days of effort, nothing would get done; but the rewards for all that hard work goes to them, not us.

And, just to be clear, this isn’t about them under-paying us for those days or settling a fair price for them. The very fact that we sell our lives means that the priorities, the decisions about what to make and do with our time is taken away from us, and it is the priorities of the buyers that decide what goes on in the world.
Pik Smeet


Blogger's Note:
The text of this article originated out of a talk given at a SPGB Discord Meeting on the subject of May Day.

The soul of Oscar Wilde (2021)

From the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

I had often seen Oscar Wilde described as a socialist for his essay ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’, but I’d never read it. So when it was published in a recent selection of Wilde’s works (Oscar Wilde. In Praise of Disobedience, edited by Neil Bartlett, Verso, 2020), this seemed to me an opportunity to fill that gap. I was more familiar with the works Wilde is much more famous for – his plays (e.g. The Importance of Being Earnest), his poetry (e.g. The Ballad of Reading Gaol), and his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and of course with his spectacular fall from grace when he was imprisoned for sodomy in an age that criminalised homosexuality and brought the writer to poverty and exile before he died in 1900 at the age of 46.

In a beautifully written introduction to this collection, the editor describes ‘The Soul of Man Under Socialism’ as ‘the writing of a man who knew all about being wounded, worried, maimed, and in danger’. And there’s no doubt that this is a tormented piece of writing. Its main theme is the quest for better social circumstances in which artists and all people can express their being freely and openly and without fear of outraging existing norms or incurring interdiction or punishment. But, given the essay’s title, I was rather surprised that a good deal of it is not specifically about socialism or indeed about any kind of politics at all. As much as anything else it’s about the role of art in human society and in particular the position of artists in Wilde’s time and the problems they faced. The connection of this to socialism is that, in what Wilde sees as a socialist society, artists would not have to abide by the strictures and constraints imposed on them in his own society. So we can agree with the editor of this volume that what we have here, at one level at least, is ‘an aesthetics of radicalism’.

But what is the ‘socialism’ of the title that Wilde sees as being necessary and through which man’s true ‘soul’ would be capable of free expression? In many ways it does seem strikingly close to the Socialist Party’s version of socialism – a world of common ownership, voluntary cooperation and free access – summed up as follows early in the essay: ‘Socialism, Communism, or whatever one chooses to call it, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting cooperation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition of thoroughly healthy organism, and ensure the material well-being of each member of the community.’ There is much else along these lines – from ‘the proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible’, to ‘it is only in voluntary associations that man is fine’, to ‘the true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is’, and ‘when private property is abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to exist’. On issues like authority and human nature too, Wilde is strikingly ‘modern’ in his thought: ‘All authority is quite degrading (…) It degrades those who exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is exercised’ (…) ‘The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes’.

But Wilde also has another axe to grind, one which at first sight may seem to run contrary to the vision he initially outlines. He tells us, repeatedly, that he prizes above all what he calls ‘individualism’. In a different context this could of course appear a way of describing the ‘every man for himself’ ethic which is at the heart of capitalist society. But Wilde sees ‘individualism’ not as the war of each person against the other, but rather a way of realising and releasing human energies in each individual to allow them to fulfil their personal potential in building a free cooperative society, a society in which ‘every man must be left quite free to choose his own work’. In Wilde’s view ‘private property has set up an Individualism that is false’, crushing true individualism, which for him is not egotism, since ‘the egotist is he who makes claims upon others, and the Individualist will not desire to do that’. But, he goes on, ‘when man has realised Individualism, he will also realise sympathy and exercise it freely and spontaneously’. And his exaltation of individualism ends on the most exalted of notes: ‘With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy, Individualism. No one will waste his life in accumulating things and the symbols for things’.

This is Wilde’s vision, but what of the means to achieve it? As the editor of this collection quite rightly points out, ‘the thing (…) that will surprise a modern reader most – given its title – is that it proposes no political or politicised action of any kind’. In other words, it contains no prescriptions on how the ‘adjustments’ to the society Wilde advocates would take place. So though he seems to be advocating socialism in the Socialist Party’s terms, he does not follow the Socialist Party’s proposal to achieve it, i.e. through political action via the spreading of socialist consciousness followed by democratic action through the ballot box. But though Wilde proposes no specific means of achieving socialism, he does make clear that he is not looking for the ‘socialism’ of state control (‘It is clear, then, that no Authoritarian Socialism will do.’). And so of course in adopting such a position, Wilde would not have found favour with many of the so-called ‘socialists’ of his day, for example the Fabians, who advocated state legislation to change social conditions. It must be said, however, that there is some residual attachment to the state in Wilde’s thinking, perhaps stemming from the same kind of failure of the imagination to be found in many of today’s ‘anti-capitalists’, a failure to imagine radically enough. In Wilde’s socialism, the state still does seem to have an existence, not apparently as a governing body, but, as he puts it, ’a voluntary association that will organise labour, and be the manufacturer and distributor of necessary commodities’. But, there again, this may be a question of terminology and what Wilde is describing is socialist organisation under another name.

So, what was my impression on reading this much-mentioned work for the first time? Was I enthused about Wilde’s vision of socialism or was I disappointed? Definitely more the first than the second and, especially given the time at which the work was written and the circumstances of that time, I would want to forgive certain flights of fancy by the author (for example something of an attachment to Christianity or at least to the figure of Christ), a tendency towards sweeping statements (part of what the editor describes as Wilde’s ‘firework display of opinion’) and the occasions on which he does not seem to entirely share the vision of a socialist world and how to achieve it of other socialists of his day (e.g. Marx or William Morris), a vision which continues to be entirely relevant today.
Howard Moss

Myths and News (2021)

Book Review from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The BBC: Myth of a Public Service by Tom Mills (Verso £9.99.)

Some people think the BBC is so left-wing and anti-British that they call it the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation. On the other hand, its recent fawning coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh and the consequent disruption to TV and radio programmes attracted so many complaints that a special on-line form was set up to make it more straightforward to object. But of course that also led to comments such as: how dare the BBC make it easier to complain about the treatment of a deceased member of the royal family.

As Tom Mills shows here, though, the BBC is very much part of the Establishment. Formed in 1922 as the British Broadcasting Company Ltd (it became a public corporation in 1927), it clearly took the government side during the General Strike. Many of its early top brass had military and/or intelligence backgrounds, and there were fairly close links with MI5. Security vetting of staff began in 1937 and continued till 1985, when it was exposed in the Observer. The World Service in particular was seen by the Foreign Office as an instrument of ‘soft power’. The BBC motto is ‘Nation shall speak peace unto Nation’, but its coverage has generally been pro-war, much more so than that of commercial television.

Down to the 1970s, it was ‘broadly tied to the social-democratic consensus’, but under the impact of Thatcherism it became ‘a neoliberal, pro-business, right-wing organisation’. There was far more reporting on business, with less attention to the concerns of workers: fewer industrial correspondents and fewer interviews with union representatives. Working at the BBC has itself become more casualised and precarious, as the Corporation has added more bureaucracy.

None of this is probably very surprising, but Mills gives a clear account of the development of the BBC and how it has been subjected to pressures from the government and other power-holders. The BBC News is dominated by Westminster politicians, and there is to some extent a revolving door with politics, which sees reporters going on to become MPs and ministers. Of course, the Establishment is not itself a monolithic entity, and the BBC reflects disagreements within it, being ‘an arena of conflict and contestation between different groups, especially rival factions of the elite’. In 1987, for instance, Alasdair Milne was forced to resign as Director-General, as the governors did not trust him to introduce the neoliberal overhaul they wanted.

The BBC is not directly a state broadcaster, but the government sets the licence fee, and this gives it a great deal of influence and power. Mills suggests it be placed on a statutory footing to avoid the periodic negotiations with government about its future, but that would make little if any difference to its role as a mouthpiece for capitalist interests.
Paul Bennett

Squared Eyes (2021)

Book Review from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

Reality Squared: On Reality TV and Left Politics, by Tom Syverson, Zero Books, 2021

Why bother watching ‘reality TV’? For Tom Syverson, there’s more to the genre than just the convoluted relationships among the latest set of pampered exhibitionists being followed by a film crew. He argues that we can watch ‘reality TV’ to reveal how our ideology, views and understanding of ‘truth’ have changed in these media-dominated times. ‘Reality television is reality squared; it’s a form of representing social reality that says something about social reality itself’ (p.14). In exploring the subject, Syverson draws on the writings of Jean Baudrillard, Slavoj Žižek, Fredric Jameson and David Shields, among other thinkers.

To underpin his discussion of particular ‘reality TV’ shows, Syverson maps out the ideological conditions within which they and the wider media sit. Following political theorist Jodi Dean, Syverson says that ‘the left was so effective in shaking the foundations of conservative social values, in trading sclerotic public morals and trust in objective truth for progressive social liberalism and postmodern relativism, that the entire landscape shifted’ (p.114). What the left felt were victories were assimilated into the mainstream: neoliberalism has turned ideals about diversity, feminism and gay rights into a source of profit for media pushing a ‘woke’ agenda, and the right has embraced postmodernism, which denies grand narratives and attracts conspiracy theories, fake news and ‘alternative facts’. Through this culture, ‘we relate to each other only by interfacing with our own fragmented, interlocking personal narratives’ (p.113). With reality seeming unreal, ‘reality TV’ is ‘the shade of popular entertainment that best conveys how living life seems to us right now’ (p.50).

Syverson explains how several American series highlight where leftist ideology has gone. An example of where postmodernism has taken us is The Hills, a docusoap about a group of friends in Los Angeles which ran from 2006 to 2010 and was revived in 2019. Unusually, those who appeared on the show acknowledged that their on-screen relationships were faked. As well as saying something about the performative nature of real relationships (p.65), for Syverson, this adds more layers to the question of how real ‘reality TV’ is: ‘as lies contradict and reinforce each other, a dialectic of deception unfolds between the characters, transferring them to higher and higher levels of simulation’ (p.57). He then applies Baudrillard’s views to say that this kind of postmodern media has changed the nature of our acceptance of what is ‘true’ or not. ‘Understanding reality television isn’t simply a matter of negotiating a conflict between fact and fiction; rather, the genre is about generating their synthesis’ (p.12).

Syverson’s discussion of other shows is related more closely to our everyday attitudes. Considering dating competition The Bachelor (2002 – ), he points out that behind its ‘decadent pageant of polyamory, deception, and performative melodrama’ (p.69) it enshrines the conservative view that love is a process towards marriage. A sizeable proportion of The Bachelor’s audience are young leftists who, on some level, feel guilty about watching it because they’re ambivalent about wanting to abolish or reclaim the institution of marriage. Watching the show acts as a release for this tension: ‘it provides the same psychological function as patriarchy, but rather than having to play it out in our real lives, we can do so using the hyperreal frame of reality television’ (p.81).

Syverson says that other questions about feminism are raised by The Real Housewives franchise (2006 – ). This series’ characters are examples of a type of feminist who has compromised by ‘shedding her radical tendencies and realigning her goals to fit more neatly with those of neoliberal capitalism’ (p.84). These ‘power feminists’ claim to be liberated by successfully balancing a career with domestic duties, even though their ‘freedom’ is to be exploited in employment well paid enough for them to outsource childcare and cleaning. The show expresses what is an ‘unattainable aspirational fantasy’ (p.89) for most women struggling to balance childcare with a ‘career’ which is low-paid and unfulfilling. The women on The Real Housewives are shown as ‘having it all’, and they, like the ideal, aren’t quite real or imaginary.

Unsettled because of how its values have been used, the left is left ‘to embrace the fantasies of popular discourse rather than to take up concrete political struggle’ (p.115), Syverson says, returning to Dean’s arguments. He sits within the left, but with a viewpoint wide enough to be critical of where its stance has ended up. It might seem odd to use ‘reality TV’ as a barometer for political ideology, but in a sense this is no different to the approach taken by capitalism’s critics since the 19th century. They developed theories by studying the functions and effects of the major industries around at the time. Syverson and the other writers he quotes in his interesting book are doing the same, focusing on mass media and communications technology rather than mills and factories.
Mike Foster

Election results (2021)

Party News from the June 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party stood 4 candidates in last month’s regional and local elections. In Wales we contested Cardiff Central constituency in the elections to the Welsh Assembly (now called The Senedd), the same we had in the 2019 General Election, with ten others standing for capitalism in one form or another. Some 43,000 election manifestos were delivered free by Royal Mail to households there. In Kent we stood two candidates for the County Council, as we had done four years ago, and one in a by-election for Folkestone town council. As there is no free postal distribution for local elections, some 20,000 were distributed commercially and by members of Kent and Sussex branch.

The results are:

Cardiff Central: Labour 13,100; LibDems 5,460; Conservative 3,788, Plaid Cymru 3,470; Green 1,552; Abolish Welsh Assembly 440; Propel 268; Freedom Alliance 156; Reform UK 151; Socialist 82; Gwlad 65.

Folkestone East: Labour 1324; Conservative 1132; Foundation Party 561; LibDems 361; Socialist 89.

Folkestone West: Conservative 2105; Labour 1782; LibDems 541; Independent 264; Reform UK 127; Socialist 55.

Folkestone Town Council Central Ward: Conservative 1119; Labour 916; LibDem 255; Independent 218; Socialist 61; Independent 44.

A Man’s Eye View of Evolution (1960)

From the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard


The study of the cosmos is a study of physical-chemical relationships.

Astronomy, which arose out of material developments, eventually gave rise to the next smaller great generalization of existence, geology, the science and study of the earth.

Some billions of years ago a hot gaseous mass emerged from the sun. In all the conflicting speculations and educated guesses as to the specific details of the origin of the earth, there is no quarrel that the solar system consists of the various planets revolving around the sun in their respective orbits.

It took a few billion years before the gaseous mass became a vast sea and, later, came the emergence of the geological formations. Evolution in geology can be traced through the strata by the fossils found in them. The evolutionary stages of geology may be summarized as archeozoic (transition to and beginnings of life), proterozoic (earliest life), paleozoic (ancient life), mesozoic (middle life, reptiles) and cenozoic (recent life, mammals).

In the course of a very long time there appeared on earth pre-biological forms which later developed into living matter. Organic life is only a more complex organization of inorganic substances which have acquired the properties of growth and reproduction. In order for life to arise on earth, propitious conditions had to exist. The earth’s average mean temperature had to cool sufficiently to support life, which can only exist within relatively very small limits of temperature. There also had to exist an atmosphere, moisture and other favourable circumstances. [2].

As a rule, charts of the tree of life start with the single-celled animal, as though this were the simplest and earliest form of life. Of course, this is not true. The single-celled animal is already a very complex form of a living being.

Inorganic matter, more especially carbon, with other elements, became joined together into complex molecules which were the building blocks of ultra-microscopic life. Of special significance is it that proteins are inorganic, yet under certain specific conditions function as organic matter. The viruses may be called the first true life forms. The next higher stage is bacteria. Eventually appeared the single-celled plants.

The primary distinction between plants and animals is that plants can subsist on inorganic matter, i.e., they can transform the inorganic into organic substances whereas animals can only subsist on the organic. In order of evolution, single-celled plants preceded single-celled animals.

Starting with the single-celled plant, the evolution of plants were algae, mosses, ferns, non-flowering seed producers and, its highest development, the flowering seed producers.

The evolution of animals was from single-celled animals into spores, fishes, reptiles, mammals and, finally, man. In this man’s eye view of the evolution of existence, we are only considering the main trunk and ignoring the branches of the tree.

Again, we see that evolution is a continuing process. The appearance of homo sapiens on the scene gave rise to sociology. In a very real sense, sociology is but a division of biology; which, in turn, is a division of geology; in its turn, a division of astronomy; which is but a branch of the greatest generalization of all matter.

Man "is the only animal species that, from the very moment he came into existence, has been continuously changing and during a continuing process has become a different thing.” [3] Through the interrelations of his brain and thinking processes, his acquirements of speech and the development of tools man has become a social animal whose evolution can be traced through his social organizations. Only a Marxist, such as Anton Pannekoek in his invaluable “Anthropogenesis,” [3] could have filled in the gap between the primates and the origin of homo sapiens, i.e., tied Darwinism and Marxism into an interrelated whole.

Man, the social animal, evolved from the pre-cave man into primitive tribal society (savagery and barbarism) and, then, into chattel slavery, through feudalism into capitalism and is now on the very dawn of a new society.

This whole development of social evolution arose from changes taking place in the material conditions of existence under which mankind lived. In response to these changes, there evolved changes in his ideas and institutions. Man makes his own history, “not out of the whole cloth” but out of the conditions at hand. This is Marxism, in a nutshell.

Our tribute to Darwin is for emancipating man from biological superstitions by his revolutionary contribution revealing the material forces that brought about the evolution of the species in biology.

Our tribute to Marx is for furnishing the key that unlocked the mystery of mankind’s social evolution and for establishing the understanding that it is now possible and necessary for man to be master of his own form of social organization and, at the same time, the lord over nature.
Isaac Rab
(WSPUS)

(concluded)

[2] All the speculations about life on other planets in the cosmos, more especially our sister planets in the solar system—Mars and Venus, are predicated upon the existence on them of the conditions favourable for the support of life. Though there may be millions of planets in the cosmos (a relatively small number, actually), it is not reasonable to imagine that very many of them have life-forms.
[3] Published by North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam, Holland



A May Day Address (1960)

From the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Hyde Park May 1st 1960

Comrades,

On the occasion of this annual event it is customary to cast a critical glance over the political scene and take stock of the position in which the working class finds itself. The Socialist Party gladly joins in this popular exercise of the day—not that we are going to ask you to vote for any resolutions instructing somebody to go and see the employers' representatives to call attention to some grievance.

We do feel it useful to try and estimate the actual position of the workers today, especially as the popular catch cry of the moment is that “you (meaning the workers) have never had it so good." Before examining the wider field I must frankly say, after watching a few thousands of you march into the Park, that either you are not workers—or you are among the unfortunate ones. If the appearance of the great majority of you, both at this meeting and the others, is any criterion—either you are starving and worried capitalists—or very needy and seedy workers.

Of course, it may well be that more prosperous workers are not attracted to any expression of discontent—albeit as vague and feeble as the Labour Party.

Whatever may be the situation in Hyde Park this afternoon, there is no doubt about the position in the country in general. I can’t, in a large open air meeting, bore you with long lists of quotations, but please do bear with me while I quote just one or two references. I think, if you listen to the facts, you will quickly realise that the prosperity stories we are hearing are only partly true. I might mention that we have heard them all before, about all sorts of places at various times.

They were the tales put about by interested parties in the United States fifty years ago - El Dorado—the golden land. The West Indians have been told this tale about us here in Great Britain. Double wages can be made in Australia—at double prices, this is why so many emigrants (those who can) hurry back home. Then, of course, there is Sweden—the most prosperous (?) working class in Europe. Incidentally, the people of any country lucky enough to escape the main consequences of the war could not  but consider themselves fortunate. Now, may I cite a few facts.

"The number of applications dealt with by the National Assistance Board during 1958 was 2,161,000,” which was so good that there were 8.200 more than in 1957. (Ministry of Labour Gazette, July, 1959.) A further proof of the 1960 British workers’ prosperity was the refusal of a grant to a further 341,000 applicants.

Now about wages, I quote from the Socialist Standard, May issue, a statement by Heathcote Amory, Chancellor of the Exchequer, that weekly wage rates had increased by about 42 per cent, between 1952 and January, 1960, and by about 3½ per cent. between 1958 and January, 1960. In point of fact, real wage rates, i.e., wages geared to the Cost of Living figure—or the things that wages will buy—have increased by 9½ per cent. since 1938, BUT this figure is based on standard weekly rates of industrial workers. If this included clerical and salaried workers it would probably show no increase at all.

A summary of the situation has been made by Professor Titmuss, of the London School of Economics—not a very keen supporter of the S.P.G.B., who says in a pamphlet The Irresponsible Society, that one in every seven in Britain NOW are precariously close to poverty. He puts the total of the poverty line citizens at between seven and eight millions.

Now what about the other side of the picture—the profits of the capitalists? Provisional estimates show that dividends paid by companies in 1959 were about 78 per cent. higher than in 1952 and about 12 per cent. higher than in 1958. According to Mr. Amory ‘‘the balance has been restored.” By this he means that the British workers have almost completely restored the gigantic losses in property destroyed during the war. The workers have presented the capitalists with a new productive outfit—with their own real wages stationary. This is the part of the business which keenly interests Socialists—and only Socialist Economics give the correct way to judge this matter.

The most important thing for workers to realise today is not whether they are drawing £10 or £12 a week now, whereas in 1930 they only drew 15s. 3d. from the Labour Exchange. Decisive for the worker is his position in relation to the capitalist—whether his share of wealth he produces, Wages, has increased compared with the capitalists.

Most of the evidence today shows that while many workers have improved their position—the profits made by many huge capitalist trusts have been all-time records.

These times of comparative prosperity in days of good trade are not new, they were well known to observers liker Marx, who mentioned that they are used by workers to recompense themselves for the bad times. Actually, it is the self-styled “realist” who is so convinced that workers are no longer poor, because they are not howling for work in dole queues, who cannot see the wood for the trees. He it is who, obsessed with the past, judges his own position by 1930, instead of opening his eyes to the facts of 1960.

Undoubtedly we live in a world of great and rapid change—but one thing has not changed, even for the prosperous worker—his dependence on the capitalist for his livelihood, who allows him to live only while his labour keeps the employer in opulence.

Yes, even with his television set and his motor car the worker of today finds himself beset with an array of gnawing problems.

Socialists hold that Capitalism cannot be improved for the workers. We see no evidence at all to prove the unsoundness of our case. Only common ownership of the means of production can solve the workers' problems.

When we think of the number of May Day meetings held in the Park today, such as those of the Labour and Communist Parties, of the time and effort involved in chasing Aunt Sallies like Summit meetings or Nationalisation projects, and getting nowhere, we resolve still more strongly to raise aloft the banner of International Socialism.

Who else, but the Socialist Parly of Great Britain, with its fifty years unblemished record of uncompromising independence and opposition to all fakers and reformists is entitled to say today “Workers of the World Unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win.”

Yes! But to win it, you must break with Reformism!
Horatio.

50 Years Ago: Murder of 137 and Death of a King (1960)

The 50 Years Ago column from the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard 

By far the greatest calamity that has befallen the nation this year took place early in May when 137 working men were buried alive in a coal mine in Cumberland. Compared with this the passing away of Albert Edward Wettin. otherwise known as King of England, etc., is as nothing compared with everything. . . .

According to Mr. Henry, under-manager of the mine, the fire started in quite a small way, and could probably have been easily extinguished. Valuable lime was wasted and when experts with life-saving apparatus arrived . . . [they] could not reach the entombed men, but declare that had they been there, earlier the latter could have been saved. And—horror of horrors!—despite the convictions of many . . . that the men below were alive . . . it was decided to no longer try to save the men, but to save the coal . . . So the mine was bricked up and the only possible means of escape for the men cut off, while preparations were also made to flood the pit should those who owned it deem it necessary.

From the Socialist Standard, June 1910.

Forty Million Refugees (1960)

Book Review from the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

There are no less than forty million refugees in the world today. Forty million people living in misery and hopelessness. Such is the appalling truth revealed in a little book recently published—Refugees 1960 (Penguin Books. 2s. 6d.).

It is written by Kaye Webb with sketches by Ronald Searle, and covers forty-eight pages. In no sense, therefore, can it be described as an exhaustive work, but in the available space, the authors at least leave us in no doubt about the plight of these our fellow humans, condemned to rot away their pathetic lives in squalor and degradation. Disused army barracks, decaying hotels and (grimly ironical) even former concentration camps—in fact, any old building the authorities can lay hands on have been pressed into use to accommodate these poor souls. Ill-fed, ill-clothed and ill-housed, it is small wonder that the health of many of them suffers, and with it their chance of escape.

For it is the lucky few only who manage to break through the mass of regulations and restrictions which the various powers insist on observing before they will allow a refugee to settle within their boundaries. For instance, they must not be too old or too young. They must not be ill. They must not be “immoral,” nor illegitimate children. These are just some of the obstacles to overcome before the unfortunate person can gain entry into one of the major capitalist states.

Generally, the fairly young and healthy are the ones who manage to get away, because as the book tells us, they represent an economic gain to the state which accepts them. In other words, they can be employed profitably and the majority of those who remain, cannot. Socialists find this hardly surprising. Human considerations take a back seat in an inhuman world, where our whole lives are dominated by the profit motive.

The smallest camp in Greece has fifty-seven families of Assyrians who came from Mesopotamia forty years ago, and whose youngsters recently refused to emigrate rather than leave their sick and aged relatives behind. This is a reminder that, like many of capitalism's evils, the refugee problem is not new. It is still with us, only more so than before, having been greatly accentuated by the last great war and the carve-up which followed. Many more were then “displaced” and will probably never be able to return to their former homes. And as we have seen, the chances of making a new home for themselves elsewhere are pretty slim.

Yet, despite this, the authors fondly hope that in this world refugee year, the camps can be emptied and the conscience of the capitalist world stirred so deeply that every man, woman and child will be resettled. Just listen to this:
  Every country with room to spare should ease open its bureaucratic door and undertake to accept without “ifs" or "buts" a percentage of the sick or economically useless human beings, to balance what they have gained from the young, healthy immigrants who will be benefiting their economy without any cost to them in education or training.
A tall order indeed. It is hopeless to appeal to the conscience of a society which has been directly responsible for such a monstrosity. Far better to have a world where man can be free to travel over its surface without the futile restrictions of nationality, and where he can satisfy his needs from a sufficiency of wealth that only Socialism can make available.

But when all this has been said. It is still worthwhile to read Refugees 1960. Mainly, it is a plain, straightforward statement of very unpalatable facts, and no attempt has been made to grind a political axe. Yet by its very simplicity of style and presentation, this book shouts a condemnation of capitalist society from every page.
Eddie Critchfield

News from the Branches (1960)

Party News from the June 1960 issue of the Socialist Standard

Annual Conference

This year’s conference ran true to form, with plenty of discussion, lots of good ideas and some firm decisions on future party activity. As a result of the conference, we shall be looking into the running of Summer schools—which we last held six years ago—and further theoretical lectures. We shall also be reviewing our methods of contesting elections and investigating the chances of nominating a candidate at Nottingham. If we can enter an election line, it will he our first ever contest outside London- which says a great deal for the excellent work of the Nottingham comrades.

The conference had a long discussion on party literature, seemed to like the new style Standard and to be prepared to spend more money on it. Many other aspects of party policy and organisation came under review and, thanks to the hard work of the general secretary's team and the chairman and vice- chairman, a heavy agenda was dealt with on schedule. It was most enjoyable to meet again the members from the provinces, some of them grand old comrades who have given —and are giving—so much effort to the party. An especial pleasure was the selection of two provincial members—Ron Cook of Birmingham and Walter Atkinson of Manchester—to speak at the Sunday evening rally.

The conference was also a social success, the Friday evening get-together and the Saturday dance being well attended. And we must not forget the comrades who worked so hard to provide everybody with refreshments at the social and throughout Conference. Conference over, the delegates and other members dispersed to their branches, ready for another year of the vital work for Socialism.

* * *

A Future Worth Living For

As is customary on these occasions, the Annual Conference was brought to a close by a lecture on some aspect of Socialism. This year is was given by two members from the provinces, W. Atkinson from Manchester and R. Cook from Birmingham. Their subject was: “A Future worth living for," which is the essence of Socialism. Comrade Atkinson spoke first and dealt with the salient features of Capitalist Society, showing how both men and the works of man are wasted through the useless activity in which many of us are engaged in pursuit of our daily bread, and the wealth of highly complex machinery that is made for the sole purpose of destruction and being destroyed; how although many people are painfully aware of social problems, they know of no real solutions and are balked at every turn by the obstacles that Capitalism puts in the way of their efforts. The working class, Comrade Atkinson went on, are still looking to leadership and reformism which (as in the past) would only help to confuse the issue of Socialism.

Comrade Cook followed with a review of working class attitudes to the future, and was not entirely convinced that they really wanted a future worth living for; that in general the prospects seemed so black that they preferred not to look beyond the present. Some workers had abandoned conventional politics as a means towards dealing with their problems and had concentrated on such forms of protest as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. He then showed how Capitalism poisons human relationships and isolates people, causing immense unseen misery. People are now also looking for something to be pro, and were tired of being just anti, he said. Meanwhile, our supreme problem is to find the most effective methods of presenting the Socialist case. The meeting was well received. but it merited a far larger attendance.

* * *

May Day in London

Despite the unfortunately bad weather on Sunday, May 1st, the Party held successful meetings in Hyde Park. Comrades Ambridge, Grant, D'Arcy and Young were in turn on the main platform throughout the afternoon and Paddington Branch had a platform at Speakers' Corner, where several comrades addressed an interested audience. Both meetings were well supported by members and good literature sales were reported. These meetings closed down at 6 p.m. in order to enable people to get to Denison House, where a good meeting was held. The title was “Workers of the World Unite" and Comrades D’Arcy and Wilson were the speakers.

* * *

May Day in Glasgow

Glasgow City & Kelvingrove Branches organised one of the most successful May Days in Glasgow for many years. The afternoon meeting in Queens Park Recreation Ground attracted an audience of over 300 who gave 45/- in collection, and more important, a very sympathetic hearing to the case for Scientific Socialism. In the main park of course a somewhat denser audience was listening to the case for Capitalism but even they were subjected to Socialist propaganda as a group of comrades took the opportunity to sell Standards and pamphlets. The evening meeting in the Cosmo Cinema produced an audience of 150 and although we had hoped for a larger audience in view of the amount of effort and expense incurred it was generally agreed that the audience were very much impressed by our case as presented by Comrade C. May of Paddington. We would like to thank all comrades and sympathisers who donated to our Special May Day fund for making it possible, after a lapse of many years, to book the Cosmo Cinema as we feel sure a continuation of May Day meetings at this venue will increase our support in Glasgow. The overall literature sales for the day were almost £7 and all the Standards ordered, 16 dozen, were sold. All contacts in Glasgow are invited along to our outdoor meetings which are advertised elsewhere in this issue.

* * *

Lewisham

Lewisham Branch is continuing Thursday evening lectures during June and July. The first on Monday, June 13th, is on the American Revolution and the Speaker—Comrade C. Wilson. On June 27th, July 11th and 18th, Comrade Hardy is giving a series of three lectures on "The Economics and Finances of Modern-Day Capitalism." All the lectures commence at 8.15 p.m. and Branch members are happy to welcome visitors.

* * *

Albert Williams

We regret to report the death of Comrade Albert Williams who died on May 2nd. A Party member for forty years, Comrade Williams used to speak for the Party, and was an active member until his health failed. As a member of Central Branch Comrade Williams continued to show great interest in the cause for Socialism. Party members would wish to express their sympathy to the relatives of Comrade Williams.
Phyllis Howard