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50 Years Ago: '‘We Want Work’

The sight of a demonstration marching through London demanding work is enough to shake anyone out of his complacency. For some years since the end of the Second World War, workers have regarded relatively full employment as a right, something that was here to stay. How wrong they were! Unemployment in November last topped the half million mark and was the worst figure in that month for over 20 years. And now we witness workless Merseysiders shouting slogans and waving banners. A spectre is haunting us—the spectre of the 1930s, the lean and hungry depression years.

How pathetic it is that an old problem has evoked only the same old stale and worthless ideas for its solution. If we pause for a moment and listen to the spokesmen for the marchers, we shall hear them demanding government action to stop the flow of industry southwards and to force more factories to the depressed areas. At best this will only remove the sting from the hopelessness of the unemployed Merseysider. Like most convenient cut and dried theories, it conveniently ignores the basic cause of the problem and, as we might expect, it is a stock line of the average Labour Party supporter.

In our capitalist society, industry goes where there is profit to be found. Nearness to raw materials, short lines of communication, plentiful supplies of suitable labour, easy access to markets, availability of cheap fuel and power—these are some of the main factors which decide the location of a factory and cause it perhaps to be moved elsewhere later on.

It is true, of course, that governments have also tried to move industry to fulfil political or strategic requirements, and since the end of the war firms have been encouraged to take their factories to the ‘development areas.’ During a period of boom when markets are buoyant and expanding, many companies are quite willing to operate from the more remote areas such as South Wales, Scotland and the North. They have a sellers' market and good profit margins. But what happens when the markets are tightening, goods are no longer easy to sell, and profit margins are shrinking? Why, production is curtailed, of course, and redundancy threatens.

(from article by Jack Law, Socialist Standard, January 1963)