The Passing Show
The last days of Gwaun-cae-Gurwen
The village of Gwaun-cae-Gurwen lies in a valley among the peaceful hills of South Wales. It runs no risks from volcanoes or other forces of nature. And yet, if the National Coal Board carries out its declared intention, Gwaun-cae-Gurwen will be destroyed as surely as Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii.
The National Coal Board, like any other Capitalist board of directors, thirsts after profit. But it took over coalmines which private Capitalism had bled white; much investment must be made before the mines can become profitable again. In the meantime, some pits, because of such geological conditions as faulting in the seams, lose more money than others. And because of such geological conditions, there are more disputes between masters and men at such pits over proper rates of pay. Strikes occur, men are dismissed because the management say they are employing “go-slow” tactics, bitterness increases; and this in its turn leads to more disputes.
Among such pits are the East and Steer pits at Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen. Over a thousand men from the village work there. There is no alternative employment nearer than Margam steelworks, 20 miles away. Gwaun-Cae-Gurwen lives because it works at the two collieries.
And on May 11th last the National Coal Board gave 14 days’ notice to all the miners at the two pits. It intends to close both of them because “continued restrictions of effort, lack of co-operation by the workmen, and low productivity” have resulted in serious financial losses. (The Times, 12/5/56).
Those who extol the merits of the British ruling class say that in Britain no one is punished without a fair trial and conviction. But here is. punishment—and what punishment is more severe than deprivation of livelihood?—without trial, without even individual accusation; it is group punishment, for which the British ruling class condemned the German rulers in the last war—making all suffer for the supposed faults of some.
But apart from that, how clearly the action of the N.C.B. demonstrates the position of the workers under Capitalism, Private or State. The worker is employed by the kind consent of the Capitalist; when the Capitalist no longer wants him, he casts him out; and the worker must crawl away until he finds some other property-owner who will make a profit out of employing him. In such a case as Gwaun-cae-Gurwen, the worker must cut his family ties, and perhaps leave the village where he was born, before he can find other work.
What a tragedy is here! Troy was taken and wiped out by enemy soldiers, hiding in a wooden horse which the enemies of Troy had built. But Gwaun-cae-Gurwen is to be destroyed by the National Coal Board, for the creation of which no one worked harder, or sacrificed himself more eagerly, than the South Wales miner. Capitalism, whatever it is called, does not change its nature; the National Coal Board is preparing to offer up Gwaun-cae-Gurwen as a tribute to the great god Profit with as little compunction as private Capitalists could have shown.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church of England, the Congregational Assembly—all join in condemning Mr. MacMillan’s new premium bond scheme. The scheme, they say roundly, constitutes government encouragement of the practice of gambling. But not a word from the reverend archbishop, or from the august assemblies, about the great gamble which is the Stock Exchange. Which is not surprising. The Church of England is doing very well from its speculations upon the Stock Exchange; and all churches realize, consciously or sub-consciously, that their function in present-day society is to allay any discontent among the masses by promising a rosy future in the sky; and to draw attention to the activities of the ruling class, upon the Stock Exchange and elsewhere, is not the best way to perform that task. So while the churches criticise some forms of gambling, they keep quiet about other and more serious, kinds.
At the conferences among the victorious war-chiefs at the end of the second world war it was agreed that eastern Germany, beyond the Oder and the Neisse, should be given to Poland to compensate her for territories she had to give up to Russia? As was foreseen, Poland deported the millions of Germans living in this part of Germany, and repopulated the territory with displaced Poles. As the knowledge of this atrocity—surely one of the most gigantic “War-crimes” committed by either side—spread, the western allies tried, by undignified squirming, to put all the blame on Russia. Russia, of course, must bear her share of the blame, but not all of it.
But not all of our “leaders” have abandoned mass deportation as an answer to the problems of Capitalism. Step forward, Mr. R. T. Paget, Q.C., M.P. Mr. Paget believes that mass deportation of the Cypriots to Greece would solve the Cyprus problem. He wrote to The Times on April 27th:
“Whenever an act of terrorism takes place and no information is forthcoming from the locality, then compulsory purchase orders should be served on all Greek property owners in that locality and the inhabitants should be deported to Greece. . . . The ships that deported the Greeks would return with Turks who would purchase and settle in the property we had acquired from the Greeks.”
“This process,” Mr. Paget writes blandly, “would continue until there was a Turkish majority or until terrorism stopped.” Mr. Paget, as becomes a leading supporter of Capitalism, leaves out of the reckoning any question of the human suffering this would entail, the merits of punishing all for the faults of some, and the justice—even by Capitalist standards—of deporting people from an island where they and their forbears have lived for hundreds of years. It only remains to add that Mr. Paget is a prominent member of the Labour Party, which claims to be devoted to increasing the sum of human happiness.
Another Labourite, and former M.P., Tom Driberg, also has some comments to offer upon the Cyprus situation. Unlike Mr. Paget, Mr. Driberg believes that “when government degenerates into tyranny… violent resistance is legitimate ” (Reynolds News, 13-5-56). He goes on:
“Violent resistance, however, should have its code of decency. Attacks should be directed primarily against enemy installations—camps, airfields, stores of weapons, radio-stations. It is wrong to throw bombs into married quarters, to shoot soldiers off duty, shopping with their families.”
The code which Mr. Driberg offers for the guidance of the EOKA resistance in Cyprus is not the code which the British forces pursued in the last war, with no protest from Mr. Driberg. Bombs were not only thrown but dropped in large quantities into every kind of quarters; British soldiers and airmen did not stop to enquire whether the Germans they killed were soldiers off duty, or indeed whether they were soldiers at all. If Mr. Driberg thinks so much of his code, he should have offered it to the public earlier, during the last war, when he was in Parliament.
As for Socialists, they have nothing to do either with bomb-throwing Cypriots or schoolboy-flogging Britons. The issue being fought out in Cyprus is this: are the Cypriot workers, Greek and Turkish, to be exploited by a British ruling class or a Greek ruling class? The Socialist attitude to Cyprus is the same as the Socialist attitude to every other part of the world; abolish Capitalism, which subsists on exploitation and leads to bloodshed and establish Socialism