Acquisition and coveting are the ruling social ideas. “You have never had it so good” is an accurate and cynical summing-up of attitudes in the 1950’s. This is not a triumph of higher wages and improved social conditions, it is a triumph of things over human relationships. The Commodity reigns supreme, and Humanity is hardly anywhere.
A New year is beginning and what are the prospects for the workers? Let us look at the immediate past and see what that foretells. During the past year the following phrase has been dinned into us by representatives of the employing class: “You have never had it so good—and its going to be better.”
We have been told that prices have risen, but wages have risen faster—and company profits have also risen. (Daily Express, 31/7/59.) We have read of huge company mergers, which are still going on, in which some sections of the employers have further enriched themselves.
The facts, however, do not bear out the glowing testimony. except for the class that lives by the exploitation of the workers. The constant strikes during the year for higher wages and improved conditions are evidence of this. Taking the workers as a whole, conditions are little different from what they were in 1938, in spite of the boasted “full employment,” and the prospects for “full employment” continuing are growing thin. What has happened is that some sections of the workers have improved their conditions, but other sections have gone backward. There has been a levelling up and down of wages and salaries.
In spite of some reductions in hours large sections of workers find they can’t make ends meet without working overtime. Overtime has become part of their necessary weekly employment, which makes a farce of reductions in hours, as overtime is now regarded in numerous instances as part of the working day.
Some workers have cars, motor-cycles, washing machines and refrigerators. This is sometimes given as an instance of how much better off workers are. But the car and motor-cycle has frequently become a necessity, either on account of the difficulty of getting to work without them nowadays, or as a necessity for the work they do. Many workers have to have cars for their work in the same way as a carpenter has to have a plane and other tools. Washing machines and refrigerators have also become a necessity where so many married women have to go out to work in order to keep the family going. It may be added that, although hire-purchase has generally enabled them to acquire these things, it also puts a load on their backs which is hard to remove. In spite of this, however, the large majority of workers are without motor cars, washing machines, etc.
As to employment, a pointer to the future is the programmes already being put into operation for economies in the mines, on the railways, and in the cotton and other industries. When these programmes are in full swing the effects on employment will be drastic. In the mining industry alone over two hundred pits are scheduled for closing. It is worth while noting that when a nationalised industry, like the mines and railways, makes workers redundant most of them have a poor chance of employment elsewhere on a par with what they are doing at present. There are no other pits or railways to go to so they must start at the beginning in some other industry.
The boom in automation is another thing that is going to have an effect in the future on employment. The object of automation is not only to produce faster and more prolifically, but also to save labour. In other words, to reduce the number of workers required to produce a given quantity of goods. How far electronics will go and how soon its effects will be felt is still matter for conjecture, but the ultimate aim is the “push-button” factory — not a promising outlook for employment under present conditions.
Let us take a glance at the housing question which has been the subject of much boasting by each of the governing parties when in power.
There have been tremendous building programmes in operation during the past few years, most of them sponsored by the local councils, like the London County Council programmes, which extend far into the country. These programmes are partly subsidised by the government and by the floating of large loans. The emphasis is on huge blocks of flats where people live like rabbits in a warren. The old argument was that under Socialism we would all be living in barrack-like buildings. Capitalism has gone one better. The country is being gradually covered with huge ugly buildings, alike in appearance, in which it is easy to get lost, and in which children have nowhere to play. Added to these are rows upon rows of small houses, alike as peas in a pod.
In spite of the building programmes there are still millions of people living in slums and near slums. Millions of them with no baths and having to share a toilet. A report in the Daily Express (22/6/1959) gives an indication of the position. The reason for the news item was the fact that a Mrs. Coles had given birth to quads: “Mrs. Coles husband, Albert, aged 29. is an £11 a week plumber. They live in one room in Glasgow with their four other children.”
Slum clearance has been a major point in the programmes of Tory, Liberal, and Labour for over fifty years — but still the slums remain! No sooner are they cleared in one area than they begin to grow again or are transferred to another area. The reason is not far to seek. Low pay and other conditions of labour prevent a large number of people from acquiring decent accommodation or being able to keep what they have in decent living condition.
If we add to the above the possibilities of war, which are always hovering on the horizon in spite of abortive “summit Conferences,” we cannot envisage the New Year holding out any brighter prospects for the workers than what they have suffered in the past, and this will continue to be the position until the workers make up their minds to abolish the cause of their miseries the present system of Capitalist ownership of the means of production.