Who are the public?
The protracted “crisis” in the mining industry has given rise to much talk in the Press and elsewhere concerning the rights of the public in relation thereto. This is, of course, by no means unusual. Whenever the workers in any large industry, supplying a commodity or service in common use, offer resistance to attempts on the part of their exploiters to increase the rate of exploitation, they are attacked on all sides as opponents of the “public well-being.” Section after section of the working class have had this accusation made against them in turn until it is perfectly clear that whoever the “public” may be, they certainly do not include the workers, although these latter comprise the overwhelming majority of the population.
A somewhat different aspect of the mat¬ter is presented in an article recently published in the “Daily News” (26/l/25) entitled “The Case for the Public.” Herein it is the mineowners who are taken to task for asserting their absolute right to their property, irrespective of the “interests of the public.”
According to the Cocoa Rag the State (representing the interests of the public) tolerates and encourages private property in all sorts of things in the belief that the public interest is best served so; but there are, it seems, exceptions, and the “News” goes on to give a list of instances during the war of the State interfering with private property in the public interest.
Returning to the mineowners, we are told that the public has a great interest in the efficiency of the pits since this is an important element in price ! Here we seem to be getting to the core of the matter.
Who are concerned with the price of coal? Not the workers, certainly; though fatuous “leaders” endeavour to persuade them to that effect. Experience has shown that an all round lowering of prices is rapidly followed by an all round lowering of wages and that the worker has nothing to gain by a policy of cheapness. On the contrary, efficiency and economy under capitalism simply involve the squeezing of, more wealth out of fewer workers and a conse-quent increase in the unemployed.
The “News” advocates short hours and high wages—on the basis of a readiness to instal labour-saving devices ! All of which goes to show that it is not concerned with the interests of the workers but with cheaper coal. Again, in whose interest? Obviously, in the interests of the rest of the Capitalist class, who depend upon coal for the carrying on of their various profitmaking concerns and who want cheaper power of all kinds in order to compete more effectively with their foreign rivals for the markets of the world.
It is significant of the degraded level to which the miners have been pushed that the Capitalist press should turn its guns for the nonce from them to their immediate exploiters. It is still more significant that the State, the executive committee of the Capitalist class, should have found it necessary to subsidise the owners rather than force through a further reduction. The “Labour” and “Communist” leaders who hailed “Red Friday” as a victory for the workers, showed thereby the abysmal futility of their leadership—to the workers.
Nothing but the sheer impossibility of reducing wages in the mining industry (without^ imposing heavier burdens upon the local rates) induced the Government to grant the subsidy. The resources of local bodies in the industrial areas generally and the mining areas in particular, are already so low that constant recourse to State aid is necessary. For the master class as a whole, therefore, the subsidy was the more economical of two evils. All the same, it is a burden they do not relish; hence they call on their fellow wolves to be less wasteful in their methods.
Thus our question is answered. “The State?” said the French king, ‘‘I am the state.” “The public?” echoes the British bourgeois, “we are the public.” Fellow workers, how long will it take you to realise the fact that you are disinherited outcasts in the land of your birth? That the power you place so readily in the hands of your “betters” is used only to flout and rob you?
“Public control,” or “public ownership,” whether introduced by Liberals, Labourites or “Communists,” can avail you nothing. The better organisation of capitalism means the more thorough exploitation of your class. Leave, then, these empty discussions upon the “justice or political morality of “public” versus “private” Capitalism to those whose interests are at stake. Your interest lies, in achieving your emancipation from wage-slavery. Whether you be miner or railwayman, sheltered or unsheltered, “high” paid or “low” paid, you are paid merely the necessary cost of your maintenance so long as profits can be squeezed from your nerves and muscles. When they cannot, then your “public” heritage is—the “dole” !
Nothing can help you but the conscious organisation of your class for the conquest of political power and the introduction of a social order in which “private” or “public” property based on profit-making shall find no place, but in which the means of life shall be the common heritage of all.
(Socialist Standard, March 1926)