Ted Grant

Cousins calls for “£15 minimum and workers’ participation” - How? Take over the 380 monopolies, Socialist plan only answer

Source: Militant, no. 21 (November 1966)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Niklas 2009

The capitalist economic crisis in Britain grows steadily worse. At the insistence of the bankers and industrialists, Wilson was compelled to drop the programme of reforms which Labour had promised at the last two elections. Already unemployment is approaching nearly half a million. This before the winter sets in, in which unemployment is expected to rise steeply to three-quarters of a million or even a million.

The shameless and cynical “opposition” of the Tories in Parliament to the compulsory application of the freeze is revolting in its demagogic appeals for liberty and freedom, from coercion and compulsion by the state. They support these measures in so far as they are Tory policies directed against the working class. They are a continuation of Tory policies when they were in power. What they are opposed to is the breaking of the “sanctity of contracts.” They do not mind freezing wages, they object like the Confederation of British Industry to the merest suggestion of a limitation of the “freedom” to raise prices, the “freedom” to increase profits, and the “freedom” to pay lavish dividends. They are not even against state intervention, only the limitation of the exploiting rights of the capitalist class.

They fear that under the protests of even the right-wing dominated TUC at the growth of unemployment the government might be compelled under pressure of the working class to take some real radical measures against the property owning class.

The working people are very patient with what they consider is “their government”; based on the support of the unions and the constituencies, the Labour Party represents the majority of the working class. That is why Wilson, Callaghan and Brown succeeded in gaining a narrow majority at the Labour Party conference.

But “putting it over” on the working people can only last for a limited time. The government and certain trade union leaders have shamefully tried to split the lower paid workers, from the more highly paid skilled workers. But already the promised “redeployment” in the Midlands of the car workers has been shown to be a myth. Capitalism does not work that way! Jobs are not hatched by wishes.

Meanwhile while wages have been frozen, prices continue to rise, meaning a cut in real wages which hits even harder the lower paid workers. And still the capitalists are not satisfied. Having got Wilson to capitulate to their pressure, they are turning on the “heat.” They want the full effects of the crisis of their system to be borne by the working and middle class, and the small business men.

Production for profit

The texts of any of the speeches of the Labour leaders in the “crisis” years of 1958 and 1961 would make bitter reading to any Labour worker. The measures of the Tories were furiously condemned and denounced by Wilson and the other Labour leaders, as utterly useless and harmful to the British economy, while constituting an attack on the standards of living of the working class.

Yet now they are in office, they have out-Toried the Tories. Their measures are far more severe and drastic. The working people and the trade unions… for the time being, have tolerated attacks on the rights of the unions and their standards, because they hope the government will act on their behalf, as soon as they possibly can. But the attacks have been twice as severe as those of the Tories in the previous crisis and the consequences will be even worse.

Even this is not enough for the capitalists, they are demanding even severer measures. The government have lavished gifts on the employers, especially big business, in the way of tax remissions and grants to persuade them to increase their investments in new machinery and equipment. But the capitalists do not invest for the sake of investment. The Financial Times put it bluntly in its editorial of October 22nd, as well as any Marxist could state the case, (they were speaking to their own class, as the overwhelming majority of workers do not, of course, read this paper). “lf the fall in investment is to be arrested, more is therefore required from the government than the bringing forward of payments of investment grants, essential though it is.” Economic growth must be held back so… “a greater share [of the nation’s total resources—EG] must go into private sector investment.”…“It is all the more important to convince industry [they mean the industrialists and bankers—EG] that when the next upturn comes it will bring higher profits with it. If this is not done, there is no reason to invest.”

That’s it in a nutshell. Capitalists produce for profit and nothing else. Ping pong balls or machine tools, whatever is more profitable they will produce. Their calculations are determined by the market. Where 80 percent is privately owned and the most productive part of industry at that, and only 20 percent is under the control of the state, it is the needs of private “industry” i.e. the capitalists, which dictate to any government. The capitalists in their turn are at the mercy of the market, nationally and internationally. The man in the grave at Highgate Cemetery, Marx, to whom Wilson referred sneeringly at the Labour Party conference, explained this more than a hundred years ago!

As a result of the freeze measures, investment is falling twice as much as in the crisis years of 1958 and 1961. Meanwhile of all the main industrial countries Britain’s share of world markets is still dropping. While world exports were increasing in the first half of this year by 10 percent, that of the United States increased by 14 percent, Japan by 13 percent, Germany and France 12 percent and even Italy 13 percent, that of Britain increased by only 5.5 percent. Thus as Wilson so eloquently declaimed in the past, the so-called “cure” of freeze at the expense of the working people is worse than the disease!

The cure of the capitalists is to try and force the Labour leaders to abandon even the remnants of Labour’s election programme. When the freeze was introduced, the government promised to maintain the expenditure on the social services intact. This was not true even at the time, as the actual expenditure of the government on housing, hospitals and other social services is well behind the original target. But now under pressure, having given his hand to the bosses, they are now grabbing both arms. Wilson under pressure has announced that investment comes first and the social services last. As the Financial Times speaking for the ruling class notes approvingly:

“The Prime Minister himself has said that the economically essential must now take precedence over the socially desirable. There is no better way of demonstrating that he means what he says than by holding down on all forms of non-productive government spending. It is not the cutbacks which may or may not materialise next year which matter most in this context but what happens after 1967.”

The Economist, journal of the most intelligent section of the ruling class, gloomily points out, echoing Cousins, that it is the construction and engineering industries which will be most hard hit and that as Cousins has pointed out,

“Despite all the talk of the great curative effects of a recession it [productivity—EG] seems more likely to go down… The real tragedy is that the downturn seems almost certain to be concentrated most heavily on the investment that the country most needs. This is an exercise in debilitation, not in economic reinstatement.”

So much for the spurious optimism of Wilson and the Cabinet. They thought they could “plan” capitalism. Capitalism is planning them. The spokesmen of the ruling class show that the next 18 months to two years will be the worst years for production since the war. There may even be a drop in production rather than the dreams of increasing production which the Labour leaders had before coming to office.

These are just figures to the capitalists and their hired tools in the editorial and economists’ chairs, to the top ranks of the civil servants, the judges and the Members of Parliament themselves, with their inflated salaries. But it looks different to the working people, especially the lower paid. It means worry, grief, suffering and anxiety to them and their families. Fear of unemployment, how to pay the hire purchase, where to live for the newly-married and so on. The workers are always ready to sacrifice if they can see real benefit to themselves, their workmates and families in the future. They understand there is something wrong or they would not have voted for Labour to change things. Now they are to be rewarded with the scourge of Tory policies. Gunter was howled down by the car workers in Wolverhampton. The workers in the car industry in the Midlands are demanding work-sharing rather than have their mates suffer on the dole. They have union consciousness and collective solidarity. “No sackings” is a correct demand. Share the work—as the T&GWU, and even the reactionary-led AEU, have been demanding! That is the first instinctive reaction of the workers. But why stop there? This is a capitalist crisis. Let them bear the burden. Especially the car industry has made colossal profits. Let them pay! If the working week is to be reduced there must be a ban on overtime and full pay for the whole week! If the capitalist system cannot afford a decent standard of living for its workers, then to hell with the capitalist system!

How to get £15 minimum

25 left-wing Labour MPs including Cousins and Michael Foot have introduced a resolution about which one of their spokesmen, Mendelson, said, “We hope that as a result of urging and discussion the government will decide to take fresh measures to encourage investment and to arrest the dangerous trend towards high unemployment. Action must be taken now.” Saints alive! They are asking a tame cow to eat red meat. Wilson echoes the arguments of the Tories when they were in power and the lefts echo the arguments of Wilson against the Tories!

Cousins and Foot have also demanded a national minimum wage of £15 a week and that is modest enough. But there are millions of workers earning less than even £10 per week, especially the women workers, among the most exploited section of the working people. Equal pay for equal work is always passed unanimously at TUC and Labour Party conferences. It has become a regular resolution for the last 50 years.

£15 a week and equal pay are modest demands! But the problem is how to get them. Everyone is for more production and productivity, including Wilson and the CBI. It is not a question of the wickedness of Wilson in refusing to carry out the policy on which he was elected, but its impossibility while the private banks, the insurance companies and the 380 monopolies dominate the economy and 2 percent of the people possess 80 percent of the wealth of the country. It is in the interests of these 2 percent that all these restrictive measures have been taken.

The Militant says that only the nationalisation of the above with minimum compensation on the basis of need with a maximum of £20 a week to any individual shareholder, can solve the problem. However, Cousins, Foot the other MPs and the unions opposed to the freeze must not piously declaim against the measures of the government. What are they going to do about it? Crossman’s “socialism” is a socialism for bankers and industrialists. But what are the Labour left going to do when the government rejects their proposals? Words will not fill empty pockets, or empty bellies. They will not create jobs.

It is no use echoing in the same words the arguments of Wilson before taking power, as Michael Foot did explicitly at the party conference. This is the argument of economic bedlam. Placed in Wilson’s position with the same programme, Cousins and Foot would be compelled to act in the same way by the logic of capitalism. No one can doubt their sincerity. But sincerity is not enough!

Let them mobilise the workers in the constituencies and trade union branches for a campaign to exert pressure on the government. The government will just shrug off resolutions in Parliament, though these can and must be a necessary starting point. But the campaign must be carried to the people. Foot and Cousins must explain how their policy is different from that of Wilson in the past and why and how it can be carried out. But first let them get a mass political campaign under way with meetings, demonstrations and resolutions from trade union branches and constituencies. Why not get the engineers and the transport workers to appeal to the rest of the labour movement nationally and locally to organise a campaign on the question? Otherwise the resolutions in Parliament are but empty words and posturing.

In fact the resolutions are meaningless in themselves and will not budge the government unless backed by mass action. However, while the so-called Communist Party is echoing approvingly the resolutions of the left without suggesting an alternative, the resolutions cannot be carried out on a capitalist basis as Wilson and Callaghan have demonstrated in the past two years.

Why not then campaign for an Enabling Act in the emergency to take over the monopoly of foreign trade, the banks and insurance companies and the 380 monopoly giants? This is in Labour’s general programme! No mandate at the last election? Was there a mandate for a standstill in production, for a freeze in wages, for cuts in the social services? “Emergencies” demand emergency action.

Cousins and Woodcock have come out for more workers’ participation in the management of nationalised and private industry. Excellent! But again words are meaningless without action. Let the T&GWU, the technicians’ unions, and all those opposed to the freeze, work out a real plan of production to use the tremendous resources of Britain for the benefit of the people of Britain. The rest of the Unions, the constituency parties and the shop stewards representatives would undoubtedly enthusiastically join in such a plan. It would mean lower hours and higher wages. A £15 minimum wage would be nothing in comparison to the new opportunities that would open up if the 98 percent of the population who own very little could lay hands on the wealth-producing resources their labour has created.

No middle way

What is the alternative? Unemployment and more crisis. British capitalism is sick. If capitalism remains the malady can only be cured at the expense of the workers. Events threaten to repeat themselves ominously. There have been leaks about an attempt to form a “National Government” as in 1931, at the very onset of the economic crisis. The present crisis will continue for another two years according to the capitalist economists, and already the other capitalist countries are catching the “English sickness.” British capitalism is in a hopeless position. The capitalists with their hired press and organs of publicity, the assistance of such demagogues as Crossman, all things to all men, are, trying to palm off the freeze as “Socialism.” At a time of real crisis they will try and panic the population as they did in 1931. The ghost of Macdonaldism stalks again. It is no use being wise after the event. The Left in the Labour Party must prepare now for the same inevitable betrayal unless Socialist policies are adopted. There is no middle way!