Ted Grant

Labour’s policy

Written: September 1945
Source: Socialist Appeal, Mid-September 1945

The recent speeches of Cripps, Attlee and Morrison provide the keynote of the policy of the Labour government. They have been greeted with satisfaction by the capitalist press.

Had the Tories won the election, in fundamentals, they would not have attempted to operate any different policy than that now put forward. It is nothing but a rehashed version of Churchill’s toil, tears and sweat election speeches.

During the course of the war, the masses, spurred on by the Labour leaders, made great sacrifices for what they were promised would be “a better world in the peace”. Now that “peace” is here, they are urged by the Labour leaders to make further sacrifices for some future day! As the old saying has it, jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but not jam today.

Cripps explained that the consumption of the civilian population in Britain in 1944 was 15 to 20 per cent below that of 1939. And then, by implication, he proceeded to argue that it would be necessary to keep the standards of the working class on that basis.

“It was reasonable (!) for people to expect and demand more foods, furniture, clothing and household commodities of all kinds.

No people in the world had done more to deserve those better standards of comfort, but the price of that increase of supplies to the home market would be the inability to maintain even the present inadequate volume of exports, and so the loss of even more foreign markets.”

The Daily Herald of September 10th, which reports Cripps’ speech, comments proudly:

“Starting with cotton, the President of the Board of Trade has begun to operate a new Plan to bring British competitive industries to the highest pitch of efficiency… The Government’s own share will be to emphasise national as distinct from sectional interest, to represent the consumer rather than the producer.”

As if the broad masses of “consumers” and “producers” were not the same people with their families! Of course, all this is to be done in the name of that mythical entity “the national interest” (which translated means the interests of capitalist-imperialism).

The Herald continues to paraphrase and quote Sir Stafford:

“The object is to create the best conditions in which the worker can produce with the least effort. If we can accomplish that, and indeed while we are working towards its accomplishment, there will be an obligation upon the workers to give of their best – not for the sake of (oh no! that will be incidental!) the owners’ profits (!?) but for the sake of our national economic survival and prosperity.”

As an earnest thereof, the cotton workers receive a niggardly increase of 10 per cent on their disgracefully low wages. And that only because it would be impossible to get labour for the mills without some sort of increase in wages.

Morrison wants 15 percent increased productivity—under capitalism!

The menace to the standards of the workers contained in Cripps’ speech is further underlined in the speech of Herbert Morrison to the National Conference of Labour Women in Leeds:

“The Government,” he said, “intended to socialise certain important basic industries and make them as efficient as possible.

“Each of these industries would have important contributions to make to increase national productivity. Efficient basic industries should stimulate the prosperity of all the other industries and increase their competitive power in the export markets…Taxation of profits in the unsocialised sector of industry may sometimes be so high as to leave insufficient incentive to reduce costs or to increase turnover. Management, no less than labour, has to put its best foot forward…”

Mr Morrison suggested a target of 15% increase in industrial productivity and overall efficiency in the next five years, yielding an addition of £1,000,000,000 to the nation.

“The Government”, he said, “intends to stimulate new capital investment in both the socialised and the private sectors of industry – new buildings, plant and machinery.

“This is not going to be easy at first, because while we are using labour and resources upon making new machinery and plant, we reduce the chance of increasing goods for immediate consumption.

“The abolition of poverty and a substantial increase in the average standard of living of everybody in this country, an increase well above the pre-war level, should be within our grasp by the end of the five years.”

Hold on there, Herbert! Any raw socialist worker would explain, when confronted with such a statement, “Everybody knows that, in general, if the workers work harder, they work sections of themselves out of employment so long as capitalist relations remain. You propose to allow capitalism to remain in industry, which employs one fifth of the entire working population. If your “plan” is carried out, it can only mean even greater unemployment than before the war.”

The promise of higher standards at the end of five years is just the usual carrot, dangled in front of the donkey, to make him pull harder. The reality is worse conditions, not better, for the working class in the immediate period ahead.

Both at home as well as abroad, there is to be “continuity of policy” of the Tory Government. The nationalisation of one or two industries will not improve matters. The Times, organ of Big Business, has not been strongly opposed to the nationalisation of the pits. It is a question of nationalising “losses”, of nationalising decaying and bankrupt industries for the benefit of the capitalist class as a whole (not forgetting the compensation for the coal-owners).

The workers will have to bear the full burdens of rendering industry more “efficient”. This is only another way of calling for “rationalisation”—of which the workers had bitter experiences in the depression of the 1930s. Rationalisation inevitably means speed-up, greater strain on the workers and relatively increased exploitation. This, together with piece-work schemes in order to induce higher output, and the continued retention of income tax on workers’ earnings, plus high prices to restrict the consumption of the workers, are the only means whereby the capitalists can invest in new outlay on machinery etc., (with money squeezed from the workers) and even hope to compete in the desperate struggle for the markets of the world.

Labour government to assist private enterprise

Meanwhile, the capitalist class, above all the combines and the monopolies, are to continue making a good thing out of the “peace”, as they did out of the war. For, as the capitalists and their hired economic hacks have always argued (and to which they have apparently converted Mr Morrison), they need the “incentive” of profits if they are to produce. The State will assist industry, presumably with subsidies, and will help to crush “inefficient” (i.e. small and backward) units for the purpose of decreasing costs for the export trade.

This can only mean a trade war with America and other competitors of British capitalism. Thus, the British workers find themselves in the same old jungle of capitalism as they did before the war. But with the difference that British imperialism is old and enfeebled, has lost its privileges and is fighting for mere survival—is outclassed by its American rival—and thus can only maintain its position by driving down the standards of the British masses.

On the basis of the maintenance of capitalism, of course, there is no other way out. And the Labour leaders stand as “realists” for the maintenance of capitalism. But the sacrifices this will involve for the workers will not mean higher standards after the five years, as Morrison pretends. On the contrary, if the policy of Morrison is continued, then there will inevitably be a slump, caused by the contradictions of capitalism nationally and internationally. Every capitalist country plans to carry out a similar one to that advocated by Morrison. Thus there will be piled up an export surplus in many countries. The workers will not be able to buy back the goods produced on the internal market, and there will be a terrific slump. It is impossible to run capitalism more “efficiently” than the capitalists, Mr Morrison. The laws of capitalist economics will continue to operate so long as the system is allowed to continue.

The workers would be willing to make sacrifices, great sacrifices, if it was really in the interests of Socialism. But it’s the same old policy under a different signboard; it’s the capitalists, not the nation, who will benefit. If Morrison and Cripps wanted real enthusiasm for production, then they would take action against the capitalists and place industry under the control of the workers. A planned economy, without any profiteering capitalists, without the waste, inefficiency and drag of private ownership and control, could enormously increase production and raise the standards of living of the workers, while the modernising and perfecting of British industry could continue simultaneously.

Yet the labour leaders, instead of taking this path, are preparing to give the capitalists an “incentive” to continue and increase production. There is only one incentive for the capitalists—increased profit—which every schoolboy Socialist knows can only be obtained by increased exploitation of the working class. Instead of preparing to expropriate the huge war profits made by the capitalists, the Labour leaders obligingly and kind-heartedly wish to add to them, in the “national interest”, in order to whet the appetite of the capitalists for production. What a farce!

Capitalists are using Labour leaders

The capitalists are using the Labour leaders as an instrument against the workers at the present time, in an endeavour to disillusion them in Socialism. Thus they hope to demoralise the working class and destroy their will to struggle. They scheme, then, at a suitable opportunity, to turn on the Labour government and drive them out of office and destroy whatever reforms or semi-reforms they may have introduced under the pressure of the masses. That would be the reward of Big Business for the services rendered them by the Labour leaders.

The mass of the workers who support the Labour Party have received some rude shocks, even in the short period of weeks in which the Labour government has been in power. But despite this, the traditional loyalty of the mass of the working class makes them cling to their old organisations. They still hope and believe that they can accomplish fundamental changes in their conditions and standards, in the whole of the old society, through a Labour government. To these workers we say: through your local Labour Parties, Trade Union branches, through your Co-ops and other organisations, struggle to exert pressure on the Labour Members of Parliament and on the government to change its policy. Demand that real actions against capitalism be taken. Not collaboration with the bosses, but ruthless struggle against them, must be the watchword of the working class.

Workers must put pressure on leaders

The workers will not accept a programme of speed-up, continued rationing and sacrifices, while the capitalists live well. They would not take it lying down with a Tory government in power; they will certainly receive it with indignation and bitterness under a government which they believe is their own and should act in their interests. The railwaymen, the miners, the dockers, the engineers, the Forces and other sections of the workforce have shown that they are fed up with the old regime and that they mean business. They voted for Labour in order to get things done, not against them, but against the capitalists. They will not tolerate attacks on their standards, under the spurious slogan of assisting the “national interest”.

Every advanced worker will stand actively with the workers in the struggles that loom ahead. By demonstrations, meetings and resolutions, the workers will show that they want a real Socialist programme.

Only by setting up Committees of Action in the various industries, to watch the capitalists and control their profit-making; only by a strict plan of inspection of the books of the combines and monopolies; only by setting up housewives’ committees to control distribution; only by such mass committees set up in every locality in the coming days, will the workers be enabled to exert real mass pressure on the Labour government, and prepare the way for real measures against the capitalists and in the interests of the workers.

The Revolutionary Communist Party stands by the workers in their justified demands. We will fight with the workers to bring pressure on Labour leaders to introduce real anti-capitalist measures. In this struggle we are confident that the best sections of the workers will see that only through the revolutionary socialist programme of Lenin and Trotsky, only through the policy of the Revolutionary Communist Party, can they overthrow capitalism and introduce a workers’ state which will act for their class against the capitalist class.