Source: Militant, no. 29 (September 1967)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009
The highest unemployment figures in August since the war, more than 550,000 out of work; that has been the consequence of carrying out capitalist policies by the government. It is expected that by January or February the total will reach nearly three-quarters of a million. A cold and bleak prospect for millions of men, women and children.
Meanwhile the British economy remains sick and ailing. The deflationary measures dictated by the CBI and the banks have not solved the problems which face Britain. Prices have continued to rise, while unused capacity to produce goods has increased. Despite the lavish handouts to big business, investment has continued to decline. Capitalists produce for profits not for the sake of producing goods. The recent speech of Gunter could have been made by any Tory minister, industrialist or banker.
“It is only the expansion of our industry that can in the end prevent even more unemployment. I do wish so many of our comrades would stop equating profits with incest or lechery.
“If you have a profitable industry you have the means for further investment, further development and more jobs. If you have an unprofitable industry you do not expand and you do not get more jobs.”
For a hundred years socialists have been pointing out that the profits made by the capitalists come from the unpaid labour of the working class. The capitalists have become more and more parasitic. From the labour of the workers and the exploitation of the colonial peoples they have piled up immense wealth. But on a capitalist basis this wealth can only be further increased by squeezing still more profit relatively from the workers. Hence the welcome by “private industry” for the speech by the Minister of Labour.
It follows from the policy of the government. Step by step they have been compelled to abandon the policies on which they were elected. In the same speech, without even realising the irony, while screaming for higher profits for the capitalists to “induce” them to invest, Gunter gave an indication that the social services are to be cut, and a form of means test introduced. Like the hypocritical capitalists who are always weeping about those in the “greatest need”, “there is no cold inhumanity in testing and probing the way and the manner in which vast sums are paid in such benefits,” he said. “Should such benefits as family allowances and housing subsidies be paid to those whose financial position make them unnecessary? Or, alternatively, should not the available resources be concentrated on those in the greatest need?”
This probably explains the resignation of Margaret Herbison from the Cabinet, and the resignation of Robert Willis from the prices and incomes board. Without clearly understanding the reasons, they have seen that the policies of the government in more stringent fashion, have followed in the wake of those of the Tories.
In addition to the lavish handouts to private industry, first freezing and now limiting wage increases the government are introducing an “Enabling Act” to give them the right to invest in private firms to assist modernisation. Big business and the state are to be more and more tied together. The CBI is approaching this suggestion gingerly and hesitantly. They are afraid it might turn out to be a two-edged weapon. They have accepted every concession of the government, only to ask for more. They are hesitating over this proposed concession because of the possible implications.
While the TUC is opposing the suggested means test they have welcomed the introduction of an “Enabling Act”. But workers in the labour movement must ask their leaders why stop there? Attlee in 1934 in his book Labour in perspective suggested a blanket Enabling Act to take all the necessary measures to nationalise the economy, in the interests of the working people. The labour and trade union movement have the necessary strength and the necessary support to take such measures.
Meanwhile the miners, dockers, printers, cotton workers are all coming into conflict with the measures of the government. Their interests are being sacrificed to those of their employers and big capital generally. The hypocrisy of Gunter is indicated by the fact that one fifth of the workers, the labourers and unskilled sections of the workers, in sweated trades such as catering, are earning less than they could get on national assistance, counting the amount they would receive with allowances and family allowances for their wives and children.
In the reign of the first Elizabeth the parish, by law, made up the wages of the agricultural labourers up to the bare subsistence level, where their wages were below this miserable level. In the reign of the present Elizabeth, an “incentive” is provided for the labourers to continue working; this to be done by cutting down national assistance should they become unemployed, where this would amount to more than they receive at work. Here is an opportunity for Gunter, and the Labour government to insist on a national minimum. The TUC has adopted the demand for a national minimum wage of £15. How about an Enabling Act making this compulsory, and abolishing the extreme exploitation of women by introducing equal pay for equal work? Why not make speeches against the sweatshop capitalists, and probing and testing the inhumanity of those capitalists, especially in unorganised industries who pay starvation wages, below the minimum? If there is to be a means test let it be to the capitalists who have been paid over and over again for the ruined nationalised industries: the latest example being steel.
Why subsidise inefficient employers? If the capitalists cannot guarantee a decent standard of living to the working people, the problem will not be solved by nursing them. That merely increases the misery, anxiety and worries for millions while not solving the problem of the economy. More and more schemes, subsidies, rake-offs and bribery for the capitalists do not solve anything. The squeeze has resulted in unemployment, while failing to induce the capitalists to invest more in modern machinery. “Deflationary” policies of taxation have merely worsened the position of British capitalism on world markets. There has been a “windfall” in the fall in the price of raw materials. But that will mean new storms among the oppressed colonial peoples, and a decreased market for goods. Devaluation would be a temporary shot in the arm, like opium, but would be followed by devaluation by Britain’s competitors. So neither inflation nor deflation can solve ailing British capitalism’s problems. In addition devaluation would mean a cut in real wages for the workers by the inevitable increase in prices, if with some delay.
Entry or non-entry into the Common Market poses the same problems. It would ruin sections of industry, create unemployment, while furthering the interests of the bankers and the biggest monopolies and the most modern industries and trades. In any case the problem has been posed too late, even for the purposes of the capitalists. The Common Market countries are beginning to move in a more nationalist direction as the general fall of profits in relation to investments begins to affect them. The English sickness, is spreading to Germany and other Common Market countries.
After generations of leaning on the backs of the miners, this section of the population, in whole areas is to be left derelict by capitalism. The shipbuilding industry and the docks are to be treated in the same fashion.
While all this is happening the “practical” men of the TUC are considering a “plan” for the next 30 years, to deal with the effects of further automation of industry. This is to gaze at a mirage while falling into a ditch. Increased production will mean more unemployment, as the automation plan for the docks shows. Yet there could be an abundance for all. An Enabling Act to nationalise the 380 monopolies, the banks and the insurance companies while “probing” and “testing” the compensation needed for reasonable standards for the capitalists would be the start of a new era. It is this that makes the CBI uneasy about Enabling Acts. A democratic socialist plan of production drawing in the unions, the working class technicians, scientists, women workers and housewives, mobilising the enthusiasm of the youth, is the only way out for the working class.
A democratic socialist Britain would transform the situation nationally and internationally. There is no other way forward for the labour movement.
Capitalist policies can only lead to new disasters like the council elections. To mobilise the working people they must be given a perspective for them and their children. Then even the most downtrodden and inert would rally to the standard of the labour movement.