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Letters

Barmy Lammy

Dear Editors

In the March Greasy Pole – Baby David Speaks – Ivan wrote a witty and perceptive account about the August Riots and Tottenham's MP David Lammy.

Lammy is a typical reformist Labour professional politician. It is bewildering that Lammy links the riotous behaviour to legal restraints on parents smacking children. It is quite obvious the antisocial behaviour by young people is caused by poverty and alienation endemic in the capitalist system (1 million 16 to 24 year olds unemployed also 50 percent of young black men are unemployed) and also harassment by the guardians of the state and private property, the police. I would like to add that as a Socialist I do not condemn the young people who ‘looted’ goods like Apple I-Phones and expensive trainers from shops last August. These are the branded goods/commodities that are fetishised in the capitalist consumer society and young people were only desiring the same commodities that the affluent can afford. Young people are surrounded daily by images of get rich quick, cutting corners, quasi- legal means of making money like in the banking sector and their "looting" is chicken feed compared to the financial looting/terrorism of the financial capitalist class.

Steve Clayton. London SW8.

Sinking wages

Dear Editors

The crew members of the Titanic were employed by the ship and not by White Star Line. This meant their pay stopped when the ship sank. If they died and a next of kin had not been named on the ship’s articles (employment contract) any pay earned would be retained by White Star Line.

Fred Moore, Canterbury.

Economic power?

Dear Editors

Thank you for the Lloyd George commentary in the March edition of Socialist Standard. It is certainly important to get our historical lessons straight. I had thought that the upheaval in Russia, and the subsequent rebellious state of the interventionist force of England, France and the United States, would have had some influence on Lloyd George’s attitude when he reputedly referred to the army as “disaffected”. Indeed, I had heard that there was even strong sympathy for the Bolsheviks and that some British troops declared themselves the “Yorkshire Soviet.” If this is true, it tends to demonstrate that at a time of extreme stress of the capitalist system state control of the engines of oppression can falter in their commitment to act as instruments of class rule. Perhaps this is what rattled your “windbag”. But he was as “innocent” of the power of industrial unionism as the union leaders were ignorant.

Aside from that, I found in my collection of dusty pamphlets a small item called Craft Unionism versus Industrial Unionism, by F.S. Budgen and L. Cotton. They wrote for the SLPGB, and in the1934 edition of their pamphlet they had some relevant commentary to offer in a chapter entitled “The Wage War of 1921 and the Triple Alliance Fiasco.” The thrust of their argument was that the reason the “Alliance” folded was precisely because the prevailing structure of unionism at the time was based upon archaic craft divisions that divided workers rather than uniting them. “Intrigue and treachery of the trade union leaders characterize ‘Black Friday’”, they wrote, but did not explain it. “By the masses it wields, and the political atmosphere it can create by setting them in motion, trade unionism is potentially capable of challenging capitalist rule in the workshops and the State, but it is entirely incapable of backing up that challenge with any effective action. All of their class instincts awakened by the approach of such a situation, the capitalists entrench themselves behind their ownership of the tools and their possession of State power; and trade unionism, having totally unfitted the working class to assume control of the productive machinery, and having rendered them morally and physically incapable of facing the power of the State, has only the choice between a forlorn hope or surrender at discretion. In their own interests the trade union leaders capitulated.”

Union-wise, things haven’t changed much but should.

Bernard Bortnick, Texas

Reply:
The old pamphlet you dug out exaggerates the power of workers’ unions vis-à-vis the state. In the end, any government can, if it so chooses, see off any challenge to its authority by unions, whether these are organised on a craft or an industry basis. This is because they control the state machine and because workers can’t hold out for more than a few weeks. In this particular case the leaders of the unions in the Triple Alliance backed down because they realised this and because they did not want to overthrow the government. Neither did their members. The lessons to draw from this failure are (1) the imperative need to first gain control of political power before trying to change the basis of society from class to common ownership, and (2) the equally imperative need for the majority of workers to want to do this and to be organised politically as well as industrially - Editors.