1960s >> 1961 >> no-677-january-1961

News in Review: Unemployment at Renault


Unemployment at Renault

“1900 workers sacked”. This was a news item in France-Soir of November. 3rd. The 1900 workers were employees of the French nationalised Renault motor car manufacturing concern. The discharges took place because the market has become overstocked and orders have fallen off.

This is a familiar feature of capitalist enterprise everywhere but the point to note is that Renault is a nationalised concern. Nationalisation has lost its appeal for most workers in Britain, but those who still think that it is a good thing should make a note that when the market becomes overstocked, even nationalised firms cannot continue to produce commodities for which there is no sale. They have to lay off the workers who have become surplus to requirements.

In the present case many of the workers at first declined to take their final pay packet and went to their benches as usual. They yielded, however, to the foreman’s explanation that in view of the management’s decision they could do nothing about it.

This brings to light one of the curious features of capitalism. Workers don’t seem to object to slaving away week after week producing something, no matter what it is, so long as they draw a pay packet at the end of the week. They wouldn’t mind if they kept on producing cars so that in the end there were so many of them that they had to run along on top of each other on the roads.

These contradictions are inherent in the capitalist order of society. Is it not time that workers started thinking about some other system—a system where goods could be produced to serve people’s needs, where these needs could be assessed and production arranged accordingly.

Fact, Fact, Fact

Thirteen years ago, the Sunderland Corporation erected a lot of prefabricated houses. They were supposed to last for a few years, until better accommodation could be found.

Fact: These houses are now overdue for demolition—many of them are damp and cold. But there is no prospect of rehousing their inhabitants.

Fact: Sunderland already has its hands too full with its present slum clearance programme to pay much attention to the plight of the people in its prefabricated slums.

Fact: Sunderland has built 15,000 houses since the war. There are 11,000 families still on the Corporation’s waiting list.

Fact: Capitalist politicians have always promised to solve the housing problem. The problem is in building a lot of the cheap-houses which workers can afford—and making their building pay. Under these conditions, society never even starts to solve the problem.

Fact: Workers in Sunderland—and the rest of the world—can end their housing problem by building a world where houses are put up for human beings to live in, and not for rent or sale.

Pay off

Did a lot of workers misunderstand that boom in hire purchase? Did they think that, because they didn’t have to pay a deposit, they didn’t have to pay anything?

Perhaps the salesmen forgot to make it clear when the contracts were signed. Apparently a lot of people took on commitments which they could not fulfil and have piled up a great heap of bad debts. Some hire purchase companies, caught in the fierce competition of the boom, are now seen to have fallen in with very uncertain clients. As a result, there have been rumours in the City about the stability of two of the finance houses concerned and much talk of setting up a central record of credit- worthiness, where the H.P. history of any buyer could be checked.

This may solve some of the problems of the finance houses. But the central problem—the thing which causes hire purchase and all the other makeshifts— remains. Workers want the better things in life, sometimes for the convenience of using them, sometimes because their possession carries social standing. But very few workers have the money to buy these things, unless the hire purchase salesman lends a hand.

So they accept a lifetime mortgage on a house, years of sometimes swingeing repayments on a car, washing machine and so on. It needs only moderately bad times to come along to upset this precarious scheme of things entire. And what has happened to the economists who assured us, in the post war years, that nobody would let a boom run away with itself again? The cut-throats in the hire purchase world have shown us that capitalism is just as unstable as it was in 1929.

There is no lack of experts—many of them officials in the consumer goods industries whose products are widely sold on H.P.—to tell us that the way out of this is to relax government restrictions. And there is no lack of prospective hire purchasers to support this view. In fact, the only solution is to have a world where things are made solely for use, not for purchase of any kind.

Footballers’ Strike

To many of the schoolboys who scuff out the toes of their shoes kicking an old tennis ball around a council school playground, the life of a professional footballer is a glamorous dream.

In fact, there is of course room at the top for only a very few, very good, footballers. These men can make a sumptuous living at the game. The rest have a hard time of it, on unremarkable pay and often under conditions of employment which an industrial trade union would not tolerate. Most footballers are looking for another job in their thirties, with little prospect of doing much better than a salesman or a shopkeeper. No professional player may publish a statement about the game without first having it vetted by his club —his employer.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has asked to have the “slave” transfer system changed to abolish the ceiling on wages and to secure a share of a transfer fee for the player involved in the deal. To enforce these demands, the P.F.A. have threatened to call a strike. The bigger clubs can more easily afford to grant the players’ demands, and foresee that to do so would help to defend their high position at the expense of the dingier clubs, many of which are already in deficit. It is, therefore, in the lower divisions that resistance to the P.F.A. is strongest.

Indignant fans, outraged players, angry club officials, have all had their say. Nobody, so far. has regretted that capitalist society makes a business of football and that the game is played, not for amusement and entertainment, but for investment. Like all the other superficially plausible criticisms of capitalism, the grumblings about the footballers’ lot are as wide of the mark as a fourth division centre forward.

Bishops and Pawns
The Church of Rome takes every opportunity of informing the world at large that it is concerned with man’s spiritual life and not his political one. Occasionally, however, its hypocrisy and cant blossom into the open, as was the case recently in Puerto Rica.
Governor Luis Marin of the Popular Democratic Party is noted for his support of birth control and easy divorce. This has aroused the ire of the Catholic Bishops of Puerto Rica, notably Bishop McMann, Bishop of Porce, the island’s, second largest city. When recently the Governor stood for re-election, the antics of the Church were remarkable even for a country as backward as Puerto Rica. Early in the election campaign, Bishop McMann opened fire with a pastoral letter to be read in every church. He asked the Catholics, who constitute 90 per cent of the inhabitants, to throw out the Democrats and vote for a newly formed Christian Action Party. He also warned his brethren that to vote for Marin was a sin. During the election, the Bishop’s efforts proved of no avail: the Governor was re-elected, and we would have expected the Bishops to quieten down. But not them. Having failed to terrify the Puerto Rican peasants by words, they are now literally putting the “fear of Christ” into them.
For a fortnight, at all Sunday Masses in San Juan Cathedral, the Pastor told his parishioners that they would have to confess to the sin of voting for the Democrats before they could receive Holy Communion. And what is more, before penitents could receive absolution. they had to promise not to vote for the Democrats again.
In this so-called enlightened age of ours it is important not to forget the power of the Church.