1960s >> 1965 >> no-725-january-1965

The Wages of Wisdom

Many working-class folk, scratching along as best they can on their meagre wages, cast envious eyes on the minority whose income is well above the average. Generally this high income is derived from rent, profit and interest, these things being in themselves a sign of property ownership. However, modern capitalism pays some people large salaries for performing functions that the capitalist class, or sections of them, often through the State apparatus, regard as useful.


When ordinary wage earners grumble about this, sure enough out come the same old arguments from their political and economic masters. To get first-class brains we must pay first-class money, they say. Thereupon the masses, taking another long steady look at their odd assortment of small change, think that they must indeed be dull fellows. Because they believe in and support property ownership, class society, and the wages system, there is no other attitude they can adopt; their only outlet for dissatisfaction is grumbling envy of each other.


The last Conservative Government, wanting to make the railways pay, acquired the aid of Dr. Beeching. We shall place the railways under the control of this businessman, they said, and because he is so clever, we shall pay him £24,000 a year. Incidentally, the Conservative Government went on controlling not only the railways, but Dr. Beeching as well. Should one be naive—and, surprisingly many are in these matters—one would reason that a person earning £24,000 p.a. must be the Great Khan of business acumen—no task, even one as formidable as that of making British Railways solvent, could withstand such an intellectual demon.


However, the problems of capitalism are not all that easy to tackle. A social system based on buying and selling the things of life, where the very ownership of these things leads to conflict, is hardly conducive to firm control Some items of recent news show that even the astute Dr. Beeching does not shine through very well.


The Sun reports that Dr. Beeching’s run-down of services, in which some 3,600 covered trucks and an unknown number of open wagons have been condemned, was overdone. Now some Goods Depots have only one-third of the trucks they need. Trucks in Norfolk sold to scrap dealers are being hired back for the sugar beet harvest.


At the same time Mr. E. S. Fay, the Railway Board’s Counsel, forecast a £250 million deficit by the end of the year.


(He was applying to the Transport Tribunal for permission to increase season ticket charges.) He explained that the Railways Board had been guaranteed £450 million to meet any deficit over the first five years, but in two-fifths of the time, five-ninths of the money had been used.


Capitalism cannot be made into a neat, workable, smooth running operation. No doubt when estimates are made on such things as streamlining railways and making them solvent, the plans look waterproof enough. But what if prices and wages rise, avenues of future exploitation contract or expand? In no time at all, the plans are shot full of holes like a fish net.


Perhaps those who for ever argue that capitalism is worth retaining will laugh away the nonsense of paying one man £24,000 p.a. without affecting the bankruptcy of a rail system while the train drivers and signalmen’s yearly wages are measured in hundreds.


To grumble, whine, protest and strike is of no great use if you are at the same time defending and maintaining capitalism. To defend the system is to deserve what it throws at you.


Jack Law