1950s >> 1955 >> no-611-july-1955

Notes by the Way

Making Strikes Illegal

The increase in the number and extent of strikes has started discussion in Government circles of possible new trade union legislation. The Economist (18 June) warns of difficulties and has an interesting comment on the part played by strikes in Capitalism.

“One idea that needs to be consigned firmly to the scrapheap from the start is the proposal that strikes as a whole should be declared illegal, and that all trade unions should be constrained by law to accept impartial arbitration upon their disputes. This proposal is unfair, undesirable and impracticable. It is unfair because the threat of a strike is a trade union’s last weapon for securing an increase in wages to which it feels that its members are entitled; and, in an imperfect world, arbitration in a country where strikes were theoretically debarred would always be less favourable to the workers than arbitration in a country where strikes are still legal The proposal is undesirable because the pressure towards higher wages exerted by trade unions is a dynamic as well as an inflationary force in any economy; it helps to draw resources into the trades that are most profitable, and it forces employers into the most labour-saving, and therefore the most forward-looking, forms of production. Last, but not least, the proposal is impracticable because the trade unions simply would not wear it, and would always find ways to flout any such dictatorial decree; if 70,000 engine drivers decided that they all felt too ill to work on a certain day, no government could put all the 70,000 in prison.”

* * * * *

The Election Results

Naturally political commentators have been busy since the election trying to interpret the heavy fall of votes that reduced the Labour Party M.P.s to 277 in an enlarged House of Commons of 630 members. (At the 1951 election Labour won 295 in a House of 625).

The Economist’s analysis (4/6/55) produced the following summary:—

“It was not the swung, but the stay-at-homes, who decided the election. The total poll was 76.8 per cent., compared with 82.6 per cent in 1951. Within those totals (1) Labour polled 12.4’million votes compared with 13.9 million in 1951. One-and-a-half million people—or more than one out of every ten of those who voted Labour last time—did not this time feel excited enough to turn out. (2) The Conservatives polled 13.3 million votes compared with 13.7 million in 1951. As they piled up some 165,000 votes in four Ulster constituencies where they were unopposed last time, it seems that over half a million people who voted Tory last time did not vote this time (3) The Liberals polled 722,000 votes, about 8,000 less then in 1951. In the constituencies with unchanged boundaries in which they fought in both 1951 and 1955, however, their votes went up by an average of about 450 per constituency. More than the whole of their increase in the share of the votes in these constituencies was at the expense of Labour.”
The Labour vote was 46.4 per cent, of the total vote compared with the Tories’ 49.7 per cent, and the 3.9 per cent that went to Liberals and others. In 1951 Labour got 48.8 per cent, and the Tories 48 per cent.

The Communist Party ran 17 candidates and lost 15 deposits through getting less than one-eighth of the votes— total cost of lost deposits £2,250. But comparing their votes at this election with the vote obtained in the same constituencies in 1951 (or in 1950 if no candidate stood in 1951) it would seem that on balance the Communists somewhat improved their position. The total vote of their 17 candidates was 33,144. In 1951 their ten candidates obtained 21,640.

Of the Bevanites the Economist says:—

“It is not necessarily true to say that Bevanite sitting members did badly in this election. Mr. and Mrs. Bevan, the Coventry duet, and Mrs. Barbara Castle, did do rather badly; but they were in the sort of areas where the general trend was towards a low Labour turn-out. On the other hand Mr. Mikardo, Mr. Greenwood, Mr. Harold Wilson and Mr. Harold Davies all did rather well.”

* * * * *

Remarkable Admission by Mr. Attlee

In a speech to a Labour Women’s Gala at Durham on 4 June Mr. Attlee spoke about the need for the Labour Party to carry on after their defeat in the General Election. Having mentioned the struggles “the blood, sweat and tears” of the present generation of Labour Party members and of their forerunners, he dealt with what remains to be done. And this is what he said :—

“We are nowhere near the kind of society we want We have an infinitely long way to go.” (Manchester Guardian, 6/6/55.)

Mr. Attlee meant by this that we are nowhere near Socialism.

Yet in 1949 in a speech at Walthamstow he said:—

“In these three and a half years you have had a new pattern set up in this country. The social reforms which we introduced nave not been patchy; they have represented a new social order. . . . We have had a great experience in democratic Socialism.” (Manchester Guardian, 22/1/49.)

In his Durham speech in June of this year Mr. Attlee claimed that the work of the Labour Party has endured despite their electoral defeat, because it has influenced the Tories:—

“They have had to accept what we have done: in fact they claim to have done the same things only they say they have done them better. They have had to accept many things which 20, 30 or 40 years ago they would have denounced as heresies, impossibilities and silly Socialism.” (S. Times, 5/6/55.)

It is difficult to discover from Mr. Attlee’s various statements what conception he now has of the way in which what he regards as Socialism is to be achieved.

If in 1955 it is an infinitely long way off, what has happened to the “new social order ” of 1949?

And if the “new social order” of 1949 was not to be taken literally but was Mr. Attlee’s fanciful way of describing some modest social reforms which the Tories also accept, how does Mr. Attlee think his Socialism ever will be achieved? For the Labour Party never envisaged the possibility of the Tories beating them at their own game of catching workers’ votes with reforms, They never thought to see the day when a majority of the workers, having had Labour Government for six years, would prefer to see Capitalism run by Tories. Though, as it happens, this ought to have been no surprise at all to Mr. Attlee for in 1937 in his “Labour Party in Perspective” (p. 123) he wrote:—

“The plain fact is that a Socialist Party cannot hope to make a success of administering the capitalist system because it does not believe in it”

Mr. Attlee’s dilemma is complete. For if he does not think the Labour’ Party in office can make a success of the job of administering Capitalism how can he hope to win elections by showing that it is a success?

The Labour Party used to dismiss the S.P.G.B. case for concentrating on winning straight support for Socialism, with the argument that the workers did not want Socialism “an infinitely long way” off, but wanted a Labour Government to give them practical benefits now by removing the worst causes of discontent.

But now we have Mr. Emanuel Shinwell, Minister of Defence in the Labour Government, telling the Staffordshire miners that the reason Labour lost the election was that “most people were satisfied with things as they are. But they were dissatisfied with the disgraceful brawling in the Labour Party and by what seemed to be a scramble for power.” (Reynolds News, 12/6/55).

So the workers, after 50 years of Labour propaganda, do not want a Labour Government to give them practical benefits now but want a Tory Government to do the job.

Where does Mr. Attlee go from here?

* * * * *

Is it Foolish?

The following appeared in the Stratford Express (3 June, 1955):—

“How Foolish
“It seems so simple to put a cross against the name of a chosen candidate—so simple that it is almost impossible to go wrong. Yet in these local divisions scores of people wasted their votes by spoiling papers in one of a variety of ways. In one of the West Ham divisions, for instance, there were 40 spoilt papers. Some people had added their name and address; some had scrawled the letters S.P.G.B. (Socialist Party of Great Britain) on the paper, while others had voted for each of the candidates and a few had put the paper in the ballot box completely blank. An indication of their state of mind, perhaps!”

It is, of course, the reference to the S.P.G.B. that concerns us, and it has to be taken in conjunction with the statement that it is “so simple to put a cross against the name of a chosen candidate.” But suppose you don’t choose either candidate. Suppose you are one of the million and a half former Labour voters who could discern so little difference between the parties that it wasn’t worth while voting.

Or, again, suppose you are a Socialist and do not want Capitalism at all, not Labour-administered Capitalism or Tory-administered Capitalism? What should you do then? Is it foolish to show on the ballot paper what you do want? It has at any rate had the merit that it caught the attention of the Stratford Express.

Of course Socialists would prefer to have their own Socialist candidates to vote for, but the Labour, Tory and Liberal parties, by agreement on the £150 deposit, made it very difficult for a small organisation to enter the field.

* * * * *

Peaceful uses of Atomic Power

All the people who are clamouring for “wars without H-Bombs” instead of working for a social system that won’t engender war, think they are being ever so humane and practical when they plead that atomic energy should be put to “peaceful uses for the good of mankind.” What they really show is that they haven’t learned the first thing about the cause of war.

Alongside the clamour about bombs, but attracting less attention, powerful groups of firms in all the leading countries are preparing for the struggle to gain the market for atomic equipment. One group of seven British engineering and electrical companies has formed the Nuclear Power Plant Co., which, according to the Evening Standard (19/5/55), has a capital of £1,000,000, but has behind it the £75 million of the sponsoring companies.

An Atomic Trade Fair is to be held in Geneva in August. A correspondent reports:

“The exhibition is to be attended by representatives from 84 countries and companies from the U.S., France, Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Holland and Norway will be exhibiting their designs for atomic power plants and for nuclear energy equipment of all sorts in an effort to gain future business in competition with the U.K. from countries less experienced in atomic power development.
“Russia will be exhibiting atomic energy designs and equipment of many types, and her exhibit may rival those of Britain, the U.S. and France—the largest exhibitors.”
(Financial Times, 8/6/55.)

A editorial (11/6/55) pressed the importance of these early stages “for competition will grow increasingly fierce and what is done now will determine the success of Britain in the future.”

The simple fact is that Capitalism’s fierce conflicts for markets and raw materials, are not and cannot be “peaceful,” whether the commodity on sale is atomic plant, coal, petrol, steel, textiles, or anything else. Here is the breeding ground of war.

This is very unpleasant reading for well-meaning Pacifists, but these are the facts of Capitalist life.

The rivalry in obtaining sources of uranium and other materials for atomic power, and in capturing markets for atomic equipment, will be just as fruitful of international conflict as were past struggles to acquire iron ore, petrol, coal, etc., and markets in which to sell the products.

* * * * *

The Millionaires’ Welfare State

According to the Daily Express City Editor (25/5/55) Mr. Harold Samuel has done very well for himself under the “Welfare State.”

“They tell you that it is impossible to make a million in these days of super-high taxation. Well, young man, do not be daunted in your endeavours by such talk.
“For here is West End property man Harold Samuel to prove that it can be done. And proving it three times over.
“For under a share plan which comes this morning from Land Securities Investment Trust—key company in Mr. Samuel’s property network—he lets drop that his personal stake is 692,000 Ordinary shares.
“And in markets each of those 10s. shares command a price just Is: short of a fiver at 99s. In all £3,426.000.
“Lush indeed has been the money-making of anyone who backed the Samuel’s star when he took over Land Securities eleven years ago.
“Then its shares were priced at 8s. a go in markets. Allowing for free issues each of those shares would now command a dizzy £66 apiece.
“For the Samuel policy has been to build the group up big in property at a time when property values were rising even faster than his shares.
“A policy which pays off handsomely—for Mr. Samuel.”

Note the dates. The foundations of the “Welfare .State” were being laid in 1944 when various schemes were prepared under the Coalition Government and put into operation after the Labour victory in 1945. And it is in this period that Mr. Samuel has built up his three and a half millions. And what predominantly helped to push up property values was the Labour Government’s inflationary policy, faithfully continued by the Tories.

The Welfare State ought to have at least one very enthusiastic backer.

There are many others, too.

The rise in property values that helped Mr. Samuel has “been paralleled by the rise in share values on the Stock Exchange and for the same general reason. And Mr. Gaitskell, in the House of Commons on 16 June, 1955, estimated that holders of ordinary shares have gained £5,000 million through the share rise of the past 15 months.

And all the time, including the years of Labour Government, small savers who put money into the Savings Bank or Savings Certificates were having the real value of their savings whittled away by the same price rise.

This must be what the Labour Party means by a more equal distribution of wealth and what the Tories mean by a property-owning democracy.

* * * * *

Calling up Striking Seamen

The Daily Mirror (17/6/55) published the following:—

“One hundred seamen involved in the unofficial strike of Cunard liner crews received preliminary notices of call-up at Liverpool yesterday.
“They are men aged between eighteen and twenty-six. whose call-up was deferred when they joined the Merchant Navy.
“Now they are unofficially unemployed and liable to be called-up. The notices they received by post yesterday asked them to say which service they preferred.
“Many of them rushed to the Shipping Federation in Liverpool to ask what to do.
“Strike leaders said: ‘They were told at the Federation that if they signed a form promising not to break any more contracts with the Maritime Board the call-up would be deferred again.
“ ‘This is a form of intimidation.’
“Normally if men under twenty-six leave a ship several weeks elapse before they are assumed to have left the sea and to be liable for call-up.’”
We need hardly be surprised at the action by the authorities but how do Liberals, who profess to be the protectors of individual rights against Tory reaction and Labour Regimentation, view the editorial in the Liberal Star (16/6/55) which urged the new Tory Government to take this step?
“Surely Parliament must take a hand without delay. After all, the Minister of Labour and National Service have power to serve the strikers with their call-up papers.”

It is only fair to add that the Liberal Manchester Guardian protested at the Government’s action.

* * * * *

Co-operative Strike Beating

The Cooperative movement long ago forgot its origins and is just another Capitalist trading organization. But it does not so regard itself. It claims to be a movement to help the workers and is in direct association with the Labour Party and T.U.C. The following heading and extract is from an article in Cooperative News (11/6/55). They show that the trading operations of the Cooperative movement, conducted according to normal Capitalist rules within the framework of Capitalism, create precisely the same outlook as is to be found in any other trading concern.

“Beat-the-Strike measures are in full swing
“By using their own transport and in some cases working late into the night, co-operative societies throughout the country are beating the rail strike. Coal supplies, which are the hardest hit, are being carried by societies’ own lorries from the pitheads.
“At Derby Society, coal department employees worked throughout last week-end restocking the coal yards. With the society’s own vehicles and tipper lorries borrowed from the building department, the society built up a sufficient stock to satisfy present demands.”

Of course those responsible for this will indignantly retort that they could not do anything else in the circumstances. Too true. Those who think they can “beat the Capitalists at their own game” have no choice but to strive to preserve the great illusion they have created.

* * * * *

Educational Progress?

At the annual conference of the National Association of Head Teachers the President, Mr. Frank Barton had something to say about the educational system. After mentioning that the hopes roused by the Butler Education Act had still not been fully realised, he said:—

“Is this really surprising? Popular education has always had a parsimonious existence. It was conceived in poverty, born in penury, cradled in privation, and nurtured in frugality.
“Unfortunately the niggardly attitude which characterised its introduction still persists. In this respect some local administrators are as much to blame as the central Government. Taking into account the increased numbers of pupils and the inflationary value of the pound, we are spending less to-day on educating the children of this country than we spent before the war. This can hardly be called progress.
“Too many of our children are still being educated in overcrowded, under-heated, unhygienic, and badly lighted conditions. It is regrettable that one solution to the shortage of classrooms has been the utilisation of ugly nineteenth-century buildings with dark, dungeon-like passages.” (Manchester Guardia, 30/5/55.)

H.

Leave a Reply