Editorial: Memorable Happenings in 1958

The events recorded by sensation-seeking journalists are not always the most important in the long run, and some of the happenings in 1958 that will do much to change the thoughts of large numbers of people will not find a place in calendars.


The year 1958 will be memorable because it will have forced a number of workers to look again at some ideas that have been blindly accepted for a quarter of a century or more. The first is the idea that State ownership of an industry and employment by a government department or public authority would rid the world of many evils and hardships. But coal miners, and railway and bus workers must have been doing some hard thinking during the past 12 months. They have found themselves forced to strike or threaten to strike over wages, just as they used to do when their employers were private companies. They have had to face the problem of what is called “redundancy”; there are more of them than the employer needs, and there will be fewer jobs for them in future. Hundreds of miles of railway line have been closed, and train services cancelled, bus routes have been thinned out, and now there are thousands of miners who are going to be hit by the closing of pits that don’t pay. That is the link between all these developments—the mine, the railway route, the bus service, that “does not pay” that doesn’t show a profit, has to be shut down.


The idea of nationalising the mines, railways and bus services, was that nationalisation would get rid of the old profit-seeking motive. The workers concerned should think this over and remember that the S.P.G.B. alone of the political parties warned them years ago that they would be wasting their time backing nationalisation.


Of course, it is not only the nationalised industries that have been affected. The falling off of production and decline of sales have hit privately owned textiles just as hard as the State-owned railways and mines, and the textile industry presents us with a harsh example of another illusion that ran parallel with the nationalisation campaign and was held by the same people. This was the illusion, prominent after World War II. that things were not going to be as they had been in the depressed ’thirties. No more would there be unemployment and the dole queue; for those “in the know” had learned how to plan for full employment.


It is reported that the Lancashire cotton towns are presenting petitions to Parliament, soliciting help because of the decline of the trade. One of the men they ought to single out for a hearing is Mr. Herbert Morrison, for it was he who, as Lord President of the Council in the Labour government, promised Lancashire that it would never happen again. It was in a speech he made at Manchester on 17th April, 1948, when he addressed 6,000 managers and workers from the Lancashire mills. We quote from a report of his speech published in the Sunday Despatch (18th April, 1948):—


  “Mr Morrison dismissed as a ghost from the past Lancashire’s fear that slump must follow boom, the fear that the cotton people ‘might work themselves out of a job.’ Last year the whole output of the industry was only 5,000 tons more than home consumption before the war. For years to come, the home market alone would probably absorb nearly all that Lancashire turned out last year.”

Mr. Morrison said:—


  “Even if the rest of the world was only half as hungry for Lancashire cotton goods as it is today, you’d still be perfectly safe as an industry to go all out. If you make the right stuff at the right price you’re in a safe position as far ahead as any man can see.”


Much the same kind of optimism marked speeches being made in the other large branch of textiles, the woollen trade. Major (now Lord) Milner was telling Leeds workers of “a great future for the Leeds clothing industry” and Dame Ann Loughlin told them “they should be able to capture the world market in women’s wear.” The occasion was the opening of a new factory. (Yorkshire Evening Post, 30th September, 1946.) After 1947 the textile industry as a whole did go on expanding, but inevitably now it has struck the depression that was not going to happen and from a top figure of about a million the numbers in the industry have dropped to 840,000, of whom 50,000 are unemployed.


Unemployment for all industries is now on the way to 600,000, a figure that does not take account of the many who have lost their jobs but do not register as unemployed, and though the government professes to be sure that things will get better “in the Spring” they have yet to explain the whys and wherefores of what has already happened. What has happened to their supposed control of the employment situation and their readiness to step in at short notice to head off depression?


The Labour Party and the Tory Party, the latter with its belief in managing “full employment” and the former believing as well in nationalisation, can look back at 1958 as a year in which their theories were demonstrated to be unsound and useless to the workers. The S.P.G.B. alone can justifiably claim that it predicted both failures.