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Pat Wall

Why Sackings? Why Walthamstow? Why TUC Revolt? Let Labour

Act Against Bosses, For Workers

(October 1967)

From Militant, No. 30, October 1967, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The result of the Walthamstow and Cambridge bye-elections, especially the former, are a crushing indictment of the policies of Wilson and the Labour leaders. As in the Council elections, which showed the same trends nationally, there has been mass abstentionism from voting of a section of Labour voters, who are registering their protest and disgust at the Tory policies carried out by the Government. Even those voters who voted Labour did so out of loyalty to the ideals of the Labour Movement and without enthusiasm. If the Government persists in Tory policies, the Labour Movement can only expect new ‘Walthamstow’ disasters on a national scale.

The three years of the Labour Government have been marked by a crisis in the capitalist economy. This crisis has existed since the end of the Second World War. It was intensified a deepened during the 13 years of Conservative rule. It has been marked by the economics of Stop-Go, which were so mercilessly criticised by the Labour leaders when they were in opposition.

The arguments of Wilson, Callaghan and Brown and other members of the Cabinet have been for “time” to “clear up the mess” left by the Tories. At the last Labour Party Conference Jennie Lee pleaded with the Conference “Give us another year and judge us then”. Now a new Labour Party Conference meets just after the TUC Conference which represented over 10 million organised workers. The results of that Conference demonstrate the dissatisfaction with the economic and social policies of the Government.

During the period of office of the Labour Government the rich have grown richer, the monopolies more powerful, and the difference between the classes has been heightened. Meanwhile Wilson and the other Labour leaders, basing themselves on a capitalist economy and using even harsher methods than they indicted when taken by the Conservative tools of Big Business, have achieved even more disastrous results. Britain is a country which lives by trade, yet is winning a steadily decreasing share of world trade. She had 25% of world trade in 1950. Under the Tories this dropped to 13%. But during the last three years of exhortations to increase exports it has dropped to 10%!

While the workers have been called on to make “sacrifices”, attempts have been made to bribe Big Business to modernise and streamline the economy in order to make it more competitive. Over £2 million a day has been paid as “incentives” to invest and re-invest in the economy. Machine tools, computers, even the recently launched Queen Elizabeth II liner, have received hand-outs from the State.

The terrible decline in world power of British capitalism has been disguised in the last two decades by the increase of world trade, and the further impoverishment of the so-called under-developed world, including Britain’s former colonial possessions, due to the increasing disparity between the prices of raw materials and the industrial goods which Britain produces. This is what the economists call the terms of trade.

Wilson declaimed about the lost wealth by the measures of squeeze of the Tories. According to calculations of capitalist economists (which constitute a gross underestimate) £3,500 million of potential production has been lost in the last five years, and £2,000 million of production will be lost this year alone.

The measures of restruction and the attempt to hold down the wages of the workers in order to increase profits, i.e. the unpaid labour of the working class, (while as every housewife knows the prices of necessities have been increased) have had the predictable results. These policies are Tory policies and alien to the Labour Movement. Now we have unemployment of ½ million, with young me and women going straight from school to the dole queues, and a predicted rise in unemployment to 800,000 or more by February.

All the scourges and sores of capitalism condemned by the Labour Movement for a generation are now appearing. The State has become more and more the hand-maiden of the private banks, the insurance companies and the 380 monopolies which dominate the economy. 1/5 of the people do not even receive a subsistence wage. Taxes have been imposed on the working class as consumers to the extent of £2,500 million. The promise of increased production to pay for more and better schools, houses, hospitals and roads, has turned out to be completely empty. Some reforms, paid out of the pockets of workers have been carried out – like the increase in old age pensions, family allowances, abolition of prescription charges and so on. But this has been countered by a rise in rents, increase in the price of school meals and rises in the price of foods and other necessities.

Meanwhile in the last three years productivity of labour has increased by 11%! The workers have not received the benefits of this increase. The capitalists are demanding still more measures in the interests of profits. Yet all the measures have merely resulted in a decrease in investment of over 3% this year in comparison with last year and 8% last year in comparison with the previous one. As Wilson trenchantly declared at milder measures by his Tory predecessors, this is “the economics of bedlam.” The same “medicine”, the same “sedatives” only in bigger doses, has led the Labour Movement to the edge of catastrophe.

After the “defence of the £” (in reality the defence of the interests of the City of London) has in practice failed, there is more and more talk in the papers of Big Business of the possibility of “devaluation.” The Times in an editorial has demanded that the Government and the “political parties” come to terms with realities. It is no longer a question of “options” but nationally and internationally coming to terms with the realities of the decline in the position of British capitalism.

There is a concerted demand for a cut in State expenditure. Meanwhile the “ceiling” of arms expenditure has been burst open and now stands at £2,200 million per annum. The State accounts for some 70% of the expenditure on scientific research, the results of which the industrialists get free of charge. The nationalised industries and the State account for 45% of capital investment, the benefits of which also accrue to the private sector. At the T.U.C. Conference it was pointed out by a Right Wing trade union leader that 1% of the population own 80% of the shares of industry! All that the workers own is their share of the national debt which is reaching astronomical figures, and which takes a large cut of the national cake in interest charges.

Tory policies whether undertaken by Tory or Labour leaders are bound to have the same results. While sneering at the growth rate under the Tories of 2½%, Britain’s growth rate last year was 1½%. It seems as if it will not even reach that this year.

What is left of the “plan” for 4% increase in production per year, which was going to lead to higher standards of living and big increases in the social services and the “welfare state”? At the beginning of this month, William Davies, the financial editor of the Guardian, wrote:

To most Socialists it must seem odd that, under a Labour Government share prices have climbed to a peak for the year at a time when unemployment has reached an ‘unacceptable’ level. TUC leaders must find it strange, too, that fat capital gains are apparently being made while Mr. Wilson continues to urge wage restraint.”

Compare this with the official figure of 345,000 families living below the official poverty payments of the Ministry of Social Security. A million children are involved. In 1966 there were a million incomes in excess of £2,000 before tax, 7¾ million on the £1,000 to £2,000, 9½ million between £500 and £1,000. 9¼ million earned the incredibly low figure of less than £500 or less than £10 per week.

No wonder the business of the pawnbrokers has increased greatly during the last year. So many families cannot make ends meet, that week by week, especially in the depressed areas they are being compelled to visit “uncle” and pawn their wedding rings and other valuables.

The Tories have no solution. Demagogically they attack the measures of the Labour Government promoted by themselves. But nearly all Western Europe is affected by the slow-down in production. W. Germany also expects an unemployment figure of 800,000 by February of next year. The “English sickness” is beginning to spread. Entry into the Common Market will not solve the problems of British capitalism. This seems to be ruled out by the policy of French capitalism, and entry 1970 to 1972 at best would be too late even to ameliorate the chronic crisis which besets British capitalism.

Under these conditions drastic remedies are needed. The Left of the Labour Party and the TUC have in part adopted the policy advocated by Wilson and the Right Wing before they came to power. Devaluation, says Clive Jenkins, instead of wage restraint. But devaluation is only an indirect means of cutting real wages, as, other things being equal, it leads to a rise in prices – especially of food, which is important – while wages remain devalued. Selective import-controls and quotas are advocated by Tribune. It is remarkable that in sheer desperation sections of the capitalist class, as revealed by the opinions of the Economist and the Financial Times are advocating just such measures. They were never exponents of policies in the interests of the workers! In any case such policies are self-defeating. Devaluation would be followed by devaluation of other currencies: selective import quotas would provoke reprisals of Britain’s capitalist competitors (“trading partners”). Inflation or deflation are but two sides of the same coin.

The prices and incomes policy was introduced as a “lesser evil” than mass unemployment according to the Labour leaders. Now the workers have the scourge of both. Hence the revolt at the TUC and its inevitable reflection at the Party Conference.

The TUC have passed a resolution in favour of a £15 a week minimum wage. Those who are working should at least receive full maintenance for themselves and their families. The TUC once again passed a resolution for equal pay for women! But unless a campaign is taken up by the Constituency Parties and the trade union branches these can remain only paper resolutions.

That great “progressive”, the Chairman of the Confederation of British Industries has called for an abolition on the restraints on the rights of women. Not equal pay of course, but the laws restricting night work and heavy manual labours should be dropped. No wonder considering the extra profits reaped from the low-paid wages of women doing the same work as men. It is with this CBI that the Government collaborates on friendly terms.

The Regional plans for Scotland, Wales and the North-East lies in ruins. They have gone the same way as the paper national plan. The railwaymen, the miners, the dockers, the shipbuilding workers, and other declining industries bear the brunt of the decline of these “old” industries.

There is not an atom of Socialism in the policies of the Labour leaders. They have now suggested a new gift to the capitalists. The Government is introducing an “Enabling Act” for State Investment in companies which require modernisation, taking compulsory shareholdings in private companies. After great hesitation the governing council of the C.B.I. has rejected the proposal. They have looked hard at this gift horse in the mouth. They are afraid of the implications which the workers will draw from this. The Government must stay out of productive industry, i.e. the 9/10 of industry which is making the profits. The workers might begin to demand the nationalisation of these industries and firms! Tory policies have driven the middle class and the politically backward workers who vote Tory and Liberal to a reinforcement of their prejudices and kow-towing to the rich and successful, to capitalist parties. It has reinforced their view that “Socialism won’t work” and their general cynicism with politics and politicians.

They can only be won with deeds, and deeds mean drastic Socialist measures: an Enabling Act to nationalise the biggest 380 monopolies, the private banks and the insurance companies, with compensation on the basis of need and with selective means tests only for the 1% of the population who own the means of producing wealth. Their system does not work or only works at the expense of the millions.

Yet there are inexhaustible stores of wealth-producing resources in Britain: (i.e.) science, technique and a skilled and education working class. Take over the above and work out the entire resources of Britain to produce wealth, and hours of work could be reduced and standards of living increased by 50% or more. Production geared to a plan in which the trade unions and all sections of population would participate on a democratic Socialist basis: housewives, consumers, businessmen, as well as first and foremost, the shopstewards and workers, would bring overwhelming support from the middle classes and white collar workers, as well as the industrial workers.

There is the road which leads to new Walthamstows, the road of present policies, the road of a new 1931 for the Labour Movement. There is the road of Socialist policies, beginning with £15 minimum and equal pay and the taking over of monopoly capital. The problem of Europe and the world can only be understood in this context. Socialism is international or it is nothing. A democratic Socialist Britain with a planned production, could appeal to the workers of Europe, having set up the example of planned production, for a democratic Socialist Federation of Europe to plan production internationally in the interests of all.

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Last updated: 3 December 2015