Monday, May 8, 2023

Crisis in the motor industry (1981)

From the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

Set-backs in the car industry are not new. Like other industries, it gets into difficulties each time there is a world depression. This time, however, special factors have combined with the depression to bring many well-established companies to the verge of ruin, and to throw an abnormal number of motor workers out of their jobs. First was the enormous rise in the price of petrol. This reduced overall demand for cars and called for new models more economical in petrol consumption. a change-over to which some companies, including Chryslers, failed to adjust themselves. The whole world pattern of car production and export has been reshaped by the spectacular rise of the Japanese motor industry, challenging the supremacy of the American companies.

In 1960 passenger car production in Japan was a mere 165,000, compared to 6,675,000 in America and 1.359,000 in Britain. Between 1960 and 1974, world production doubled, but output in America rose by only 10 per cent. and their share of the world total fell from 53 to 28 per cent. But in Japan output had jumped to nearly 4 million, putting their car industry in second place to America’s 7,332.000 Now. seven years later. Japan is on the way to being the world’s leading producer of passenger cars, and is already by far the biggest exporter. This happened because output in Japan has gone on growing in the depression while in the rest of the world it has fallen. In 1980 the output of the American company. General Motors, dropped by 26 per cent. and Toyota now challenges General Motors for first place in the world. (The course of events in commercial load vehicles is much the same as in passenger cars.)

The Japanese companies have won their success by invading the home markets of the rest of the world, forcing the local-based companies to compete by reducing prices and often selling at a loss. In spite of motor workers’ wages having been kept below the rise in prices (and in some cases reduced) most of the world’s motor companies are losing money. In America in 1980 the losses were: General Motors £500 million, Fords £677 million, American Motors (owned by Renault) £88 million and Chryslers £767 million — the biggest loss of any company in American history In Britain British Leyland lost £535 million, yet the big Japanese companies all made a profit, for example Toyota £568 million. The number of motor workers has gone on increasing in Japan, but in America 25 per cent have been laid off and the loss of jobs in the British industry is on the way to 100.000. In an earlier setback in 1965-7, the production of motors in Britain fell 10 per cent. Since 1977 output has dropped by 30 per cent.

As far as the world depression is concerned, with its consequent reduction of sales of motor vehicles world-wide (except in Japan), the companies can count on capitalism reversing the downward trend and expanding again some time or other. Many companies (including British Leyland) are investing in new models with that in view. But none of the governments has discovered a method of bringing about recovery and preventing further depressions in the future. Capitalism goes its own way whatever policies governments follow. This ineffectiveness of government policy was highlighted in Britain by the manifesto of 364 economists declaring that the Thatcher government policies are wrong and will not bring about "sustained economic recovery”. There is no policy that will do this, but if the 364 think there is, why have they not let us into the secret? After two centuries of capitalism and a score of depressions during which every possible variation of government policy has been and failed, all they can offer us is that "the time has come . . . to consider urgently which alternative offers the most hope". In other words, the 364, many of them responsible for advising past failed policies, cannot even agree among themselves on what to do.

In all the countries invaded by the cheap Japanese motor vehicles, the companies and the Unions have responded by urging their governments to curb imports; in the first place by agreement with Japan, and failing that, by imposing import restrictions. Officials of the Transport and General Workers’ Union told MPs at a meeting in the House of Commons: “The British car industry will be dead within five years without import controls” (The Times 4/3/81). The demand for import restrictions does not even pretend to be a policy for protecting the world's car workers against unemployment. It would merely reduce unemployment in some countries and increase it in Japan The Japanese companies estimate that a 15 per cent cut in their exports would put 70,000 Japanese workers out of their jobs (The Times 31/3/81).

Japanese motors are not the only ones being sold in the British market. The countries of origin include America, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and a Rumanian car is to be on sale here in the autumn. There is, of course, a reverse movement. British Leyland (along with car firms in Europe and America) is hoping to get into the Japanese market, and is planning to export its cars to Europe. Jointly with Peugeot they are to assemble and market a Peugeot car in Australia.

In several countries the hard-pressed motor companies have succeeded in getting government subsidies or loans. Contrary to declared government policy, British Leyland recently received £990 million and Chrysler of America have been saved, at least temporarily, from bankruptcy by a US government-backed loan of £360 million last year and £180 million this year. President Reagan’s statement: “This does not imply that this government approves of baling out private companies in difficulties”, sounds like Sir Keith Joseph telling MPs how it comes about that the Thatcher government has reluctantly adopted the same policy.

Having exploited to the full the direct export of cars to foreign markets, Japanese companies are now planning to set up plants inside these markets. They are negotiating to manufacture in Britain, thereby gaining unrestricted access to the whole EEC market, providing they use materials that are 80 per cent EEC origin.

One of these companies is Nissan, makers of the Datsun. They plan to invest £275 million, to produce 200,000 cars a year, subject to finding a site of the right size and location, and reaching agreement with the components companies and the trade unions. Nissan already has. or is planning, car plants in America, Mexico, Spain. Italy, Australia and Taiwan, and plans to manufacture motor components in Ireland. Toyota, Japan's largest motor company, has so far not favoured setting up plants abroad, but it is reported (Sunday Times 22/3/81) that they are considering joint production with Fords in America.

British Leyland has reached agreement to build a Honda-designed car in Britain and discussions are reported to have reached agreement on joint production of the Mini-Metro in Japan. Japanese cars dominate world exports because they are competitive in price and quality. The Chairman and Managing Director of Fords in Britain said:— "The Japanese, more than anyone, have the ability to produce high quality vehicles on a massive scale at low cost." (Daily Mail 4/4/81). (He also said that Nissan’s plan to set up a plant in Britain “could be catastrophic for this country’s motor industry”.)

Whatever may have been true in the past, it is not because wages in Japan are lower. Car workers’ wages in Japan are now higher than the British. The Japanese companies score because their productivity (output per worker) is higher. Their plants are all new, or relatively new, and all use the latest and most efficient machinery and techniques. They have developed more efficient methods of management and work organisation, avoiding costly production hold-ups through delays in the chain of processes, and using fewer staff in supervision and control. Having succeeded in getting continuous strike-free production in motor plants in Japan, the managements are looking for the same in Britain. According to an article in the Financial Times (25.2.81) the Nissan Company in its search for the right site will not look at plants or districts with a record of frequent strikes.

A problem British motor companies have had to handle is the multiplicity of unions. Lord Scanlon said in 1972, when he was President of the Engineering Union, that it takes members of 38 separate unions to make a motor car (Sunday Times 9/4/72).

The Nissan Company is insisting as one of the conditions for setting up its plant in Britain that there must be agreement for only one union to represent all the workers. Whether and how this obstacle can be overcome with the unions remains to be seen. The company is also insisting on the abolition of union demarcation practices. The Japanese style of manning is already being copied to a limited extent by Fords at Dagenham, with a proposal to abolish the whole grade of General Foreman.

As regards the future of American and European motor companies, an article in the Financial Times (23/2/81) takes the line that their only way to survive is to equal the high productivity and quality control of the Japanese companies, by learning to apply Japanese techniques in their factories. Those who fail to do so will go under, as happened in the American television industry, when it was faced with an onslaught from Japanese exporters similar to that in the motor industry.

British Leyland hopes to reduce its losses in 1981-2, but expects to take from five to ten years to achieve “business results of a standard which will attract external funds on normal commercial terms". (Financial Times 20/3/81). Some observers think that it will never pay its way and is doomed to founder.

In the all-pervading gloom that overhangs the British motor industry, there is one small corner in which the sun still shines. The Financial Times (20/3/81) reported: “Sir Michael Edwards. B.L. Chairman, has almost completed arrangements to sign his first contract with the company. This is expected to raise his salary to about £100,000 a year".

Are you being driven mad? (1981)

From the May 1981 issue of the Socialist Standard

One in twelve males and one in eight females in Britain will spend some part of their lives in a psychiatric hospital. Most women between thirty and sixty are regularly prescribed tranquillisers by their family doctor. Since its introduction in the 1930s, ECT (electric shock treatment or electroconvulsive therapy) has been used on thousands of people. There is a widespread use of neurosurgery and other therapy methods, and admissions to psychiatric hospitals are increasing as daily life in our society becomes more tense and frenzied.

“Madness” is very often behaviour which conflicts with conventional ideas of normality or proper thinking. We all think as an involuntary activity, in ways which are specifically human and which differentiate us from our older animal relations. To think is to reflect m the brain the material reality of the environment: il is a relationship between matter and matter. The way in which we relate to our material surroundings determines how our thoughts are to be classified by other people. In primitive society people believed that they were in touch with another world when dreaming. In the Middle Ages people who rejected Christian morality were tortured as lunatics who were possessed by the devil. "Sanity” can be interpreted as a readiness to accept common experiences in conformity with common ideas; "insanity" can be dissent from the social conditioning process.

Mediaeval society had certain ideas about how women should behave. Those women who did not fit in with those ideas were often persecuted as witches. Sprenger and Kramer's hook on how to spot a witch, The Malleus Maleficarum, written m I486, was the downfall of many a woman who suffered from epilepsy. the symptoms of which were listed in the book as the classical characteristics of a witch. In 1515 five hundred unfortunate women were killed for witchcraft in Geneva in the space of three months. In the eighteenth century the "mad" were confined to institutions where they were chained up. beaten, humiliated and put on public display. The diaries of many a nineteenth century nobleman contain reports of Sunday afternoon outings to the lunatic asylum to be entertained by the misfortunes of the deranged.

Most British mental hospitals were built to fit m with nineteenth century ideas about mental health: these days the chains have gone, but the humiliation of the confined has not. Many inmates in modern asylums were first put there for moral or criminal transgressions An unmarried servant girl at the turn of the century who bore a child would face such moral outrage that she would become depressed and, instead of receiving sympathy from those around her, would be locked up in an asylum. Soldiers who could not take the conditions of war, homosexuals who cracked up trying to repress their feelings for the sake of acceptability, poor children who saw nothing wrong with stealing from the rich, men who broke under the monotony or responsibility of their jobs, wives who were left on their own by husbands who grew tired of them, girls who could not conform to the advertisers' modes of anatomical excellence —all of these may be found m any psychiatric hospital. They are not sick just sick of what society is.

Conventional mental disorders are experienced by almost everyone at some time. Depression is a perfectly natural response to a lifestyle in which we are taught to have expectations, but are denied the opportunity to fulfil them. If we are depressed because we are not allowed to do what is technically feasible but socially forbidden, we are simply reacting to a seemingly insoluble social dilemma. Socially produced ills are what cause such depression: people formulate their own reasons to be miserable. Another common mental illness is paranoia: the feeling that there is some force beyond you which is trying to dominate or oppress you. Most of us have felt vulnerable, threatened, unwanted or inadequate at some time. But are we ill because we have these feelings? In a society based on the hypocrisy, artificiality and authoritarianism of the sort that is an integral part of the buying and selling system, are those who are in the inferior social class wrong to have a feeling that we are being oppressed?

It would be very nice for our bosses if every worker who complained that he is oppressed could be classified as a nutcase, but responding to the oppression which surrounds us is not paranoia. In a society which locks people up for taking what they have produced (stealing from work), for refusing lo kill (in many countries military service is still compulsory) or for attacking the government (as is the fate of dissidents in the Russian Empire and South Africa), it is the ignorance of oppression which betrays the greater mental contusion. Then there is schizophrenia which most psychiatrists define as a state of mental fragmentation: it is a condition in which part of the mind accepts reality as it is, while the other part entertains delusions. These so-called delusions are sometimes treated by neurosurgery, the aim of which is to modify the patient's thinking so that the brain responds to all events in a standard way. A case of schizophrenia is cited by Morton Schatzman in his book, Radical Therapist:
Recently, a young man in the NATO military forces, with a position in a chain of command to push a nuclear-missile "button”, decided to refuse to obey orders related to his job. He told his superiors that they should not command any man to do such a job. He was diagnosed as a schizophrenic and was hospitalised.
Mental problems are caused by the relationship between the human mind which is rational — and a mystifying social environment — which is irrational. If we misunderstand the world around us we are entitled to feel depressed and threatened and deluded. When one considers just how crazy the present system of organising human affairs is, mental non-conformity is to be strongly advised. What is often called “madness" is a rational response to such problems as war, poverty and insecurity. In The Inner World of Mental Illness, so-called psychiatric disorders are characterised as
. . . opposed to a normality which is intimately related to the major value orientations of western society. It may be asserted therefore that abnormality (psychosis) involves negative relationship to prevailing social normative prescriptions . . . In the jargon of the moment we may call this "alienation”.
The mental health pressure group. PROMPT, has stated that one of its roles  is
. . . to demonstrate that what currently passes as "mental health" is often the measure of the person’s exploitability by those who own (or otherwise control) the means of production and distribution of that which is necessary to sustain life; and to show that a person called “mentally ill” is often someone strongly reacting against their exploitation.
In state capitalist Russia dissidents who try to criticise the bogus socialism are often locked away from the public on the grounds that they are mad. Once locked away, many of them are driven to actual mental derangement by excessive isolation and the use of drugs. Once diagnosed as being insane the dissenter loses whatever credibility he may have once had. Bukovsky and Gluzman, in their Manual on Psychiatry for Dissidents, points out that
Dissidents, as a rule, have enough legal grounding so as not to make mistakes during their investigation and trial, but when confronted by a qualified psychiatrist with a directive from above to have them declared non-accountable, they have found themselves absolutely powerless.
The other capitalist states use similar methods. British television, for instance, is quite expert at branding social dissenters in such a way as to lead acquiescent workers to reject what they are saying very often before they have even said it. Most socialists will have been called a crank or a lunatic at some time for having spoken about a world without money. Of course, men like the Duke of Edinburgh who dress up in military uniforms and talk about how safe nuclear weapons are, are considered to be perfectly sane and worthy of public respect.

The battle for socialism is the battle against the conventional ideas of our age. Socialists ask questions. We ask why it is that there are people who produce all of the wealth of society and yet live in poverty and people who are idle who live in luxury. Why do grown men and women cry when they run out of money in the middle of the week and they have a family to feed. Why are children sent to school to be conditioned? Why are otherwise rational men and women occasionally seen to address the sky and ask for help? Why must we live in constant fear of being killed by bombs that none of us want? Why are our fellow human beings dying of starvation by the minute while food rots? Why slums? Why palaces? Why unemployment? Either it is all normal and those of us who reject it are 'insane,' or else we are sane and it is mad.

Socialists aim to bring the ideas held by the majority of people in line with their experiences. This is the role of any scientist who is serious about his work. But instead of endeavouring to examine social reality, government scientists tend be employed to perpetuate the current form of reality. This is particularly true of modern psychiatry which is more concerned with the treatment of symptoms than with examining their cause. Indeed, if psychiatrists were to study causation they would be put to the impossible task of either giving up their occupations and trying to change society or continue their jobs in the knowledge that what they are doing is futile and often counter-productive.

If a man lives his life in chains and responds by kicking out at those around him, the psychiatrist’s solution of binding his legs or dulling his brain so that he is too weak to kick is less reasonable than the socialist solution of destroying the chains. However, under capitalism — the social system which prevails throughout the world today — the freedom of the parasites at the top can only he secured by the social constriction of the vast majority. So, reasonable a proposition as it may he to smash the chains which presently confine us, they who pay the psychiatrists are paying to ensure that symptoms are treated while the problem remains.

But surely if we, the majority class in society, are the victims of this system, we should be destroying the chains ourselves? Indeed we should but it is an unfortunate fact that a majority of that majority class have become accustomed to the confinement of life under capitalism and nothing would disturb them more than the prospect of social freedom. How is it that capitalism has spared its victims from such dangerous thoughts of non-conformity? We can begin by rejecting the most popular explanation: that human beings come into the world with ideas already implanted in their brains. This is the argument of the apologist for capitalist normality, who is anxious to inform us that we have "forgotten about human nature”. (As if the moment he reminds us we are going to stop being socialists!)

In fact, ideas are not inherent, but are acquired by convention. Our language is a learned code. Our concepts of right and wrong are products of historical change. Learning is the essence of our conformity. We learn to accept things as they are in three ways: firstly, by the overt agencies of thought control, such as schools, universities, newspapers, television, radio, parental guidance, and religion, secondly, by experience of the system which one comes to accept as natural phenomenon; thirdly, at an early age our feelings of freedom and human creativity are repressed to fit in with conventional social relationships. Rejection of these conditioning. processes is often labelled as insanity.

For instance, if a child takes no notice of the social norms imposed by its parents and teachers it will be persuaded, bribed, locked up, beaten — but if these things fail and the child does not step into line it may be labelled as disturbed, insane or subnormal. This label will have profound effects upon the future economic and personal prospects of the non-conformist. People who reject the 'naturalness' of their social environment are easily dismissed as fantasists or utopians. It in within the terms of sanity to complain that the rent is too high, but it is a case for psychiatric concern if one demands decent living conditions for everyone. Many innovative scientists, who have challenged conventional hypotheses, have been dismissed as lunatics. The non-repressed individual is virtually unknown in our society, but if you try to live in an unrepressed manner you are likely to end up either being isolated in squalor or confined to an institution. How many of us could honestly say that we would live as we are living now if we were really free?

In The Manufacture of Madness Thomas Szasz says that psychiatry
. . . is harmful to the so-called mental patient. This is not because it is liable to abuse, but rather because harming people categorised as insane is its essential function. Institutional psychiatry is, as it were, designed to protect and uplift the group (the state) by persecuting and degrading the individual as insane or ill.
He goes on to point out that there is no basic difference between modern ideas of madness and those of mediaeval society. Despite the so-called liberalism of the modem state
. . . there are still the disadvantaged, the disaffected, and the people who thought and criticised too much. The non-con formist, the objector, all who deny or refuse to affirm society's dominant values, are still the enemies of society.
This view is confirmed by an article in The New Scientist (21/6/79) in which it was reported that in South Africa, Germany and Japan
. . . doctors unabashedly carry out psychosurgery to make “patients" more obedient and supposedly as a “cure" for homosexuality.
It should be pointed out that many patients have died as result of needless psychosurgery. It should also be pointed out that many of those being presently held in such top security mental hospitals as Rampton are undergoing corrective treatment involving drugs and ECT, as well as brain surgery, simply because they have refused to obey the social norms. The terrible thing is that the more such people claim that they are being abused, the more the psychiatrists who are supposed to be treating them accuse them of being mentally ill. It is not only in Russia that offenders against the status quo are sentenced to insanity.

Dissent is safest when it is engaged in en masse. The purpose of the Socialist Party is to be an instrument for mass opposition to the capitalist system as a way of living. If you stand out against it alone your friends, family and workmates will try to dismiss your non-conformity as eccentricity or utopianism. The more of us there are, the harder it becomes for the Normals to ignore us with a nervous laugh. We, the overwhelming majority of the human race, have no weapon which is more effective than our capacity for critical thought. Ideas coupled with political solidarity will penetrate every single aspect of the social edifice which seems so unbreakable to the lone dissenter. If we are bitter and vociferous and impatient it is only because the system which aims to control us has driven us to it. Now let us be mad and sane enough to learn to control the system.
Steve Coleman