Monday, August 21, 2023

Finance and Industry: What is an incomes policy? (1966)

The Finance and Industry column from the August 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

What is an incomes policy?

Last month we examined the wealth of people at the time they leave this world and found, in the majority of cases, that they had little to leave. Could it be that working on the basis “you can’t take it with you" they had the wealth at one stage, but had frittered it away on a merry-go-round of solo, scotch and sex? Alas, the answer, as they say in the best American war films, is negative.

For our evidence on this point we again turn to the report of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue for the year 1964-65, where we find the table of personal incomes for the year ended 5 April. 1964, on page 82: —

It is difficult to understand how so many people enjoy such affluent pursuits as Continental holidays and motor cars, until it is realised that of 12,780,900 married men included in the above table 36 per cent of them send their 4,592.000 wives out to work.

We do not intend to join the argument here as to whether the place of a wife is in her home. But the evidence does suggest that there is a large number of families who might be homeless if the wife did net bring home that additional pay packet.

There arc some ladies of course who are not even bothered by the thought of losing their job because of the Selective Employment Tax as they are already in the £20,000 per year class.

What can a government armed with an “incomes policy" do about such incomes? If words were the answer it would all be resolved by now. But the words have to be translated into actions that are consistent with capitalism. And the only thing consistent about capitalism is that the few will continue to exploit the many—just as long as the many are prepared to stand for it.

Them and us

One thing abundantly evident from the previous item is that we still live in a world of them and us. The wide disparity of incomes coldly tabulated in columns of figures can be confirmed upon examining the dual quality of commodities produced, even those satisfying such basic human requirements as a house to live in.

The latest occasional bulletin issued by the Co-operative Permanent Building Society is an analysis of the 2,802 people to whom they advanced mortgages, during the quarter December, 1965-February, 1966, to purchase new dwellings. From the survey Mr. Average emerged as 28 years of age, producing a deposit of £846 toward a house costing £3,864; and earns £24 14s. 0d. per week from which to pay a mortgage of £20 9s. 0d. per month for approximately 25 years.

As two-thirds of these workers were buying homes for the first time they were probably pleased to get them before the increase of “hundreds of pounds” threatened by the National Federation of Building Trade Employers in response to the government's proposals to raise the standards required of building and house equipment.

If this is how some younger members of the working class are trying to acquire a piece of the property-owning- democracy—and you will notice there is a prejudice against the older ones—how does the enemy fare?

The London Evening Standard carries a property news page, and on July 7 it had items on the following which might be of interest to you. A fifth-floor flat overlooking Hyde Park; the owner. Val Parnell, only asks £37,000. Are you a top executive fed up with commuting and want to move back into London? Your solution is in course of erection at Enismore Gardens, price range £35,000-£68,000. Perhaps you are only a younger executive, then unfortunately you must commute to the riverside at Chiswick, mooring fees are £13,000-£I8,000. Did you enjoy canvassing for the Socialist Party of Great Britain in Hampstead at the last election? Then you will be sorry you missed the eight bedroomed house sold recently for £40,000 by Sir Arthur Porritt, the Queen’s surgeon.

Do you still think there is an equality in poverty?

146 Shopping days to Christmas

Most newspapers make claims on the earnings of their readers in the scramble to attract advertising. And although many products are advertised in most newspapers there are some which only appear in those papers generally thought to be read by the higher income groups.

In case you missed the Sunday Times of July 3, we would like to bring the following to your notice, which might be of some help when preparing your present list for Christmas.

Firstly, Dupont have a new range of lighters selling at £10 I5s.-£165 and they even boast that “a few people can afford a Dupont."

Secondly, if you are fed up with the old plastic salt and pepper pots used  by your mother-in-law, nip along to Gerrard, the crown jewellers; they have a silver set for £44 10s. Or perhaps she would prefer the sauceboat for £24 10s., the sugar dredger for £25 or the coffee pot for £101 10s.

When you go, please don’t show your working class origin. Don’t ask for trading stamps.
Ray Guy.

The Passing Show: The Lady and the Tramp . . . and all that (1966)

The Passing Show Column from the August 1966 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Lady and the Tramp . . . and all that

Ryde on the Isle of Wight on one of the many disappointingly wet and blustery days of an English summer. Holidaymakers sit disconsolately in the numerous Egg and Chip cafes, or gaze gloomily from the seedy seafront shelters at the unfriendly grey sky, bored stiff.

But there is one man who seems quite indifferent to the weather or to the unfriendly stares of some, who no doubt resent the smell that clings about him. He is a tramp, a caricature of a human being, with a mane of iron-grey hair and big blue eyes, whose battered clothes are secured about him with strips of tape and lumps of coarse string. There on a low wall he sits in the open, doggedly reading an old copy of The Times.

In a pub that evening, a brassy haired woman expresses her disgust at the mere existence of such people, and listening to the talk, you learn that this one is always on the island, wandering from place to place throughout the year. Unlike many tramps, though, he is by no means penniless because (or so the story goes) his family pay him enough money to keep him out of their way.

But what the lady in the pub overlooks is that there are a few thousand like him in Great Britain alone (and the number is growing) and she probably never stops to ask herself why this is so. Perhaps she feels that he is an affront to her meagre dignity, or perhaps he is an uncomfortable reminder of the loneliness that is always stalking in the background for all of us under capitalism, so that no one knows just when it will engulf him.

Tramps, it has been said, are what they are because they cannot face the harsh realities of everyday life in the modern world. So they take to the road and go on the run from it all, rarely staying long in one place, alone with their rags and their thoughts, objects of a mixed pity, fear and resentment from the population in general, and condescension from the “do gooders" in particular.

There’s certainly something to be said for such a theory, though of course it does not go far enough, and misses out a very important fact. Our man in Ryde notwithstanding, the mass of tramps are very poor—a lot of them from the very lowest income groups in the working class—and it is one of the big factors which makes them turn and run. For them, loneliness is not new by the time they start their wanderings, and in many cases it is a choice of near-destitutions, static or mobile. To sleep under a hedge with newspapers for bedclothes, or alone in a damp and dingy room with crumbling walls and vermin for company— and the worry of finding next week’s rent. The loneliness of their lives is theirs in ample measure, of course, but as one vagrant said to a survey interviewer, “it’s not so bail when you're out in the open . . . Four walls bring it home to you . . .” 

But don’t go making the mistake that loneliness is for tramps only. It is fast becoming a really big problem of the sixties. Armand Georgés in a little booklet Modern Loneliness has estimated that there are over four million lonely people in Britain and it is a terrible fact that it affects all age groups, from children to “senior citizens”.

This booklet is not a very satisfactory work and barely skims over the problem, but it does at least touch on the causes, such as: —
The uniformity of council house estates . . . the demands of work and economic difficulties produce a feeling of boredom and boredom is the first symptom of the the disease . . . 
Seventy years of age, he lived in digs. When he became ill he went into hospital, but although he recovered he still remains there because his landlady will not take him back. She has let his room . . .
Mr. Georgés admits that loneliness “cannot penetrate useful work and emotional stability" but further than this he doesn’t go, perhaps because he is vaguely aware of the difficulty of attaining these conditions in the world of today. So he contents himself with suggestions of more clubs, meeting places, etc., and a government “ministry for the aged".

So let us say what we think of the problem. Loneliness, boredom and emotional strains are a product of private property society, and modern capitalism has brought them to a terrifying pitch. It has been said that we are all on our own in capitalism and it is not difficult to see why. In such a set-up, we are all thrown into ceaseless competition with each other so that satisfactory contact between human beings is a rarity.

The problem is accentuated in the big towns, of course, where the narrow and unfulfilling lives of workers is so much in evidence, like the couple above. And for those who are lonely, the very bigness of the towns, crammed to capacity with other humans (mainly workers) though they are, restricts their chances of ever belonging anywhere. It is a poverty in human friendship and contact, a direct result of poverty in the means of life from which most or us suffer.

Sing something simple

An old copy of the Gibraltar Chronicle dropped out of a file the other day and promptly found its way into my pocket. It's dated Nov. 9th, 1949 and what do you think appears on the front page? Well, among other things is a bold headline: “T.U.C. leaders will fully support Govt’s policy". There follows a report of the T.U.C.’s decision in London “after seven weeks of anxious discussion” to “give full support to the Labour Government’s policy of greater production at less cost". This, by the way, was after the devaluation of Sterling—with its effect of price increases—yet still the T.U.C. was prepared to recommend an "even greater effort to keep demands for higher wages under restraint . . .”

Well, it's old news now. but it does us no harm to look back a few years and see the similarity between ideas then and now. The T.U.C. seems to have learned precious little in the past seventeen years, if a statement by their general secretary George Woodcock is any guide:
If in the early days you can emphasise increased productivity or prices or social justice as the main objectives, you are just kidding yourself. You can, as we are doing, get some degree of incomes restraint, rough and ready and unscientific though it is. You can expect to do that quickly. The other things will take time.
Did 1 say that little had been learnt? If a minus quantity, of knowledge were possible, Mr. Woodcock and the T.U.C. would certainly have it.

Bigger and better bedbugs

When we were kids my parents waged a long and largely futile battle against bedbugs in our poky terraced house in London. Fumigation, creosote, and even blow-lamps all had a temporary effect only, and there they were as thick as ever in a week or two. Wc got rid of them eventually because for some months during the blitz, we didn't use the bedrooms. I suppose they all died of starvation, or went looking elsewhere.

Now what do you think of a Guardian report of June 6th? The U.S. is planning to use bedbugs against the Vietcong. But these will be specially bred for the purpose and won’t be starved to death so easily. Just look at this revolting account.
". . . Plans are based on the fad that bedbugs scream with excitement at the prospect of feeding on human flesh. So what Mr. McNamara's whizz-kids are up to is trying to produce a sound amplification system which would enable the G.l. . . . to hear the anticipatory squeals of a captive bedbug as it detects the Vietcong lying in ambush ahead . . . A large and hungry bedbug will . . . register the presence of a man some 200 yards to its front or side while ignoring the person carrying it in a special capsule".
When we have pointed to the brutality and degradation of capitalism’s wars, understandably we have tended to stress the bigger horrors like nuclear bombs, but it is perhaps the so-called smaller things like this which illustrate the depths to which men sink their dignity in the cause of the profit motive.


Comrade Mao Tse Tung is the greatest genius of our lime. Rarely has history seen such a revolutionary leader as Mao Tse Tung . . . (Peking People's Daily 15.6.66). '

There is not and never was a man in the world of so varied, so rich, so fruitful and so omnipresent a genius . . . (Tribute to Stalin, by Moscow Radio. May Day 1951),

Mr. Robinson said . . . he would prefer a bigger building programme for the (hospital) service . . . but the amount of money available had to depend on the economic progress of the country. (Guardian 25.6.66).

The very idea of auto sales and auto profits has been built on a pile of corpses. (Ralph Nader, author of Unsafe At Any Speed, Guardian report 15.6.66).

In the foreseeable future, the only alternative future to an incomes policy is higher unemployment. (Guardian editorial 5.7.66).

I have never fell humiliated (T .U.C. General Secretary George Woodcock 5.7.66).
Eddie Critchfield