News in Review
Business as usual
The first job of a new Labour government, after the victory champagne has been drunk and the rosettes put away with all the other mementoes of an election campaign which was full of hasty promises, is to assure everybody that nothing will be done to disturb the capitalist social system which the millions who voted Labour—not to mention the other millions who voted Conservative, Liberal, etc—so ardently support.
So it was that on the first Sunday after the election Mr. Harold Lever, who is. Labour MP for Manchester Cheetham, rushed into print in The Observer.
He opened his article like this:
“Labour’s decisive victory has aroused anxiety in the City and large areas of the business world. In my view all these fears are unjustified and need to be promptly dispelled . . .”
Mr. Lever then commenced to tick off, one by one, the fears which these business men who have not taken the trouble to observe a Labour government in action might unreasonably have thought about what Mr. Wilson will do to capitalism.
Nationalisation? Clause Four? Economic planning? Taxation? Investment incentives? The Labour Member dealt with them all, and ended on a justifiably hopeful note:
“It is to be hoped that we will enter this difficult period without damaging and needless misunderstandings between Labour and the world of business.”
Now this must have been very bracing to any capitalist who troubled to read it. And his satisfaction must have been even higher if he also read an article on the following day by William Davis, the Financial Editor of The Guardian, which reviewed the prospects for profits under a Labour government, and ended with the conclusion:
“Looking ahead two or three years . . . there is good reason to believe that the upward trend in dividends will be resumed.”
There should be no need to point out that trade unionists, whose unions often do so much to help Labour get power, cannot look to the immediate future with the same optimism as businessmen. And no Labour MP has yet tried to assure them on this point.
Hypocrisy over Rhodesia
As the world knows, Mr. Harold Wilson is having quite a fight with the Smith government in Rhodesia.
Mr. Wilson takes his stand (in public, at any rate) on moral grounds. The Smith government, he says, offends against all accepted standards of conduct by its racialist policies. He also complains for the benefit of those who are not impressed by an attack on racialism, that Mr. Smith is a rebel against the Queen.
The world also knows that the British government has tried to impose a blockade on Rhodesia and that there have been attempts, of varying success, to break the blockade.
There need be no surprise that these attempts are justified also by moral arguments, although of a different kind from those of Mr. Wilson.
The blockade runners talk about the freedom of the seas, and about the sanctity of commerce. This is just as Rhodesia’s situation is a grand opening for a free-lance oil company and shipping magnate to make some money. This is the basic reason for the attempts at breaking the embargo; the justification comes after.
What of the future? Speculation has its dangers, but the chances are that Mr. Smith will find plenty of other companies willing to cash in on the situation and run the risks of defying the embargo.
Probably, too, there will be undercover outlets for Rhodesia’s tobacco duce, to replace those closed by the sanctions programme.
International trade is a matter of profit and loss and while it can be influenced for a time by political considerations the basic conditions of capitalism will in the end dominate.
Mr. Wilson has publicly said that he would win an easy victory in Rhodesia. He would not be the first leader of capitalism to fail lo understand the basic realities of a situation he is trying to control.
One of the problems which capitalism faces over sending people to prison for offending against the system’s property laws is that while they are inside they may forget what it means lo be docile, industrious members of the working class.
To discourage this, there is a veritable army of probation officers, welfare societies, clergymen and other soul-savers who are only too willing to help the released prisoner back into capitalist society.
They remind him that he is after all a worker; they talk about his making a constructive contribution to society; they spare no effort to find him a job and so help him from one form of imprisonment into another.
Now the reformers are going even further.
An electrical component firm in the Midlands, is collaborating with the authorities of a new prison there to get the convicts working on the assembly of their products.
The firm is not, of course, doing this purely as a money making venture; they claim that it is a social experiment.
The prisoners will be able to earn at most 11s. a week at this work—for a full time, forty hour week on piecework.
This is the first time a closed prison in Britain has undertaken work of this kind. The governor has made it clear that the assembly line in the prison will be just like one in a factory outside:
“We shall encourage prisoners to produce as much as possible as efficiently as possible.”
Thus the prisoners will have no excuse for feeling unsettled when they are let out at the end of their sentence. The disciplines, the exploitation — and the life will have continued while they were inside.
Presumably this is intended to make the men more amenable to their lot under capitalism. Has any reformer considered whether it may have the opposite effect?