1960s >> 1964 >> no-715-march-1964

Who cares about steel nationalisation?

Some of the steel companies are spending large sums of money telling us why the steel industry should not be re-nationalised and why therefore electors should not vote for the Labour Party. Large and costly space has been taken in national newspapers to put the views of the Chairmen of Stewarts & Lloyds and the Steel Company of Wales.

What the readers of the statements think of them we do not know, but it would be difficult to find more tedious, trivial and irrelevant utterances, of no concern to the workers in the steel industry or any other and not really of any significance to most of the investors.

The steel company’s statements against nationalisation will not pass unchallenged and we may expect a cloud of equally tedious, trivial and irrelevant utterances from the Labour Party in support of nationalisation. But what does it matter either way to the mass of the population in this or any other country? What difference does it make in essentials whether they work for a company, a public board, or a government department? Whichever way it goes the workers will be paid as little as their employer can get them to take, and the policy of the employer, or board of directors running an industry, will in either event be to make profit.

Nationalisation can be of importance to the small group company directors who will lose their directorship without necessarily being given jobs on the nationalisation boards, but for the shareholders it is no more than changing a somewhat larger but not guaranteed income from stocks and shares in a company into a somewhat less but guaranteed income from government securities.

Of course, there is the old myth of high-principled investors who ‘”would rather die” than countenance nationalisation, but it looks rather silly against the fact that the national debt (now £30,000 million and paying out interest of £600 million a year) along with other functions, is used by the government to finance the nationalised industries.

What does it matter to investors whether they draw dividends directly from a company, or lend money to the government, at interest, for the government in its turn to lend it to the nationalised boards at interest? And what difference does it make to the workers whether they are exploited by a company or by a board for this purpose?

Half a century ago, when argument about nationalisation was really fierce, there was a reason. It was that nationalisation was being advocated by people who thought it could be used as the first stage towards ending capitalism and introducing Socialism, and the property owners feared it for the same reason that they feared Socialism.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain at the time rejected the idea that nationalisation was a step towards Socialism, and foretold the disrepute into which it has now fallen. When therefore the steel companies and the Labour Party engage in wordy battle over it they are both beating the air: the companies pretending to believe that behind nationalisation stands a Labour Party intention to introduce Socialism and an equally false Labour Party pretence that it is so.

When the two sides talk of efficiency, service to the public, national interests, low prices, etc., etc., it is entirely beside the point as far as nationalisation is concerned. Everything that is complained about the nationalised industries would apply equally if they had not been nationalised. Does anyone suppose that if the Railways were still run by half a dozen private companies they would have escaped the troubles resulting from road competition? ‘Or does anyone now imagine that the need for the workers to strike in self-defence from time to time is any less under a board than under a company?

Broadly speaking, nationalisation in this country is a fading issue because it not only solves no problem of the working class (it never did or could have done), but it now rarely serves any purpose to the capitalists either. They no longer think of nationalisation as a means of controlling particular monopolies, in the interest of capitalism as a whole, and in face of experience they no longer believe that nationalised industries and services are likely to be any more efficient or cheap than those not nationalised.

One last word, though it will probably fall on deaf ears. Will Mr. Stewart and his colleagues of Stewarts & Lloyds accept our positive assurance that nationalisation is not Socialism and has nothing to do with Socialism? After all, we are out for Socialism and have never supported nationalisation.

Edgar Hardcastle